Gov't to pursue reef compensation

By Aurea Calica, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jan 05 2014 09:24 AM | Updated as of Jan 05 2014 05:24 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang is committed to pursuing compensation for the damage caused by a US Navy ship that ran aground last year at Tubbataha Reef, a United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.

The US government continues to withhold payment of the P58-million ($1.3 million) fine imposed by the Philippines for the grounding of the minesweeper USS Guardian in the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park that destroyed a large part of the marine reservation.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte repeated the statement of the Department of Foreign Affairs that the parties had achieved good discussions or progress on the issue of compensation but a “certain third party had filed a case before the Supreme Court.”

“At least, on our part, from what I understand, the OSG (Office of the Solicitor General) was able to file a comment when it was ordered to do so. So since there is a pending case it will be better for us not to comment on matters that fall under the petition that was filed,” Valte said over radio dzRB.

In April, various groups filed a case before the SC against officers of the vessel and asked that US military ships be barred from entering Philippine territory, among others, in the absence of clear environmental guidelines.

The court, however, has yet to rule on the petition.

Edilberto Adan, an officer of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the US, was earlier quoted in reports as saying that if not for “certain groups that think they can do more,” the Philippines would have already been compensated by the American government.

Adan said the US government had expressed readiness to compensate and that there was a list of projects that they were willing to undertake to assist government agencies to rehabilitate the reef and provide expertise, in addition to certain compensation.

The US government is ready for pay for the damages caused by the US Navy minesweeper to Tubbataha Reef but the Philippines has not made a request, an official of the US embassy in Manila said yesterday.

“The US has not yet received a request from the Philippine government for damages caused by the former USS Guardian to Tubbataha Reef,” the official, who asked not to be named, told The STAR.

A US Navy report and findings on the grounding of the US Navy minesweeper released last June indicated visual and electronic cues as well as alarms were disregarded and a general “lack of leadership” led to the grounding of USS Guardian.

In a 160-page report, US Pacific Fleet Admiral Cecil Haney said the crew of the ship had “failed to adhere to prudent, safe, and sound navigation principles” that could have prevented the incident involving the USS Guardian.

Haney said the tragic mishap was wholly preventable and was the product of poor voyage planning, poor execution and unfortunate circumstances.

It was not clear what sanctions would be imposed on the crew.

Haney said the ship’s watch team had disregarded visual cues, electronic cues and alarms in the hours leading up to the grounding.

The Supreme Court asked the US government to answer the petition seeking higher penalties for and criminal prosecution of US Navy officers and crew of the Guardian. -- With Pia Lee-Brago