MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Justice (DOJ) cannot act on a letter of appeal from fisherfolk that urged the department to take legal action against US Navy officials and crew men for damage caused by a US minesweeper on the Tubbataha reef.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, De Lima said pending the outcome of an ongoing probe headed by the Philippine Coast Guard on the incident, the DOJ has to keep its hands off the issue.
She also stressed that what the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) submitted was not a complaint.
"Remember na iniimbestigahan pa yan so kailangan hintayin muna resulta ng imbestigasyon before we can consider taking any action. It would be premature. Ano magiging basehan ng DOJ? It was a mere letter of appeal, Wala pang basehan ang DOJ at this point to take legal action… until may resulta na ang imbestigasyon kung ano nangyari," she said.
In a 3-page letter dated Jan. 5, Pamalakaya said the DOJ "is constitutionally bound, politically and morally obliged to undertake legal action against Rear Admiral Jeffrey Harley and Lt. Commander Mark Rice of the US Asia Pacific military command and the 79 crew members of USS Guardian."
Pamalakaya described the incident as an "environmental tragedy."
The USS Guardian ran aground the Tubbataha Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, about 80 miles (130 km) east-southeast of Palawan Island, last month. It has yet to be salvaged.
Pamalakaya said the damage caused by the USS Guardian on Tubbataha is enough evidence against the American sailors.
"[T]he evidence is damning enough to enforce the arrest of US Navy officials and 79 crew members of the USS Guardian for extremely violating the country's sovereignty and laws. But nothing has been done to pursue their arrest and demand accountability from them.
"The officials and crew of USS Guardian, according to officials of Tubbataha Reef Management, were warned not to enter the UNESCO-declared heritage site because it is unlawful to pass or navigate there as prescribed by Philippine [laws]," the letter read.