Probers seek Guardian documents

By Christina Mendez, The Philippine Star

Posted at Feb 14 2013 07:51 AM | Updated as of Feb 14 2013 03:51 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine government, through the Coast Guard, will ask for ship documents from the US Navy in its investigation into the Tubbataha incident involving a US military minesweeper that ran aground.

A Coast Guard official said yesterday that the USS Guardian left Subic on Jan. 15 at 9:55 a.m. and ran aground at the atoll on Jan. 17 between 2:30 a.m. and 3 a.m. as it was sailing to Indonesia. The US Navy vessel reportedly had 79 crewmembers.

The Coast Guard official said they would require additional data from the US Navy, and would be coordinating with the US embassy in their request for documents pertinent to the investigation into the incident.

“We need essential documents such as the deck log book because it records every action on the bridge, information on the heading of the ship if it changed or altered course, the maps, engine logbook, and the global positioning system (GPS),” the official said.

The same official, however, clarified the purpose of the investigation was not to file a criminal case against the guilty party but to gather information to be used to enhance the laws governing the Tubbataha Reef and prevent a repeat of the incident.

“The purpose of the investigation into the USS Guardian is to know what happened, to know what are the factors that led to the incident. Hopefully, we could come up with recommendations to prevent the occurence of a similar incident,” he said.

The official said the investigation would not be a difficult task since it is merely a grounding incident and the coral reef was a fixed structure.

“The Tubbataha Reef is a prohibited area. How did it happen that your ship was inside the atoll? How did it end up there,” he asked.

“We just want to know if there was negligence on the part of the ship’s officers and crew; if there was a failure of equipment; if they lack the knowledge; if there was lack of information; and if the weather or sea condition was a factor,” he added.

Obligation or indulgence

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago expressed concern on the move of the US government to offer compensation for the destruction of the reef caused by the Guardian.

“I am concerned that the American offer of compensation is made to appear, not as a dictate of legal obligation under international law, but as an indulgence in American magnanimity,” Santiago said in a speech at the University of the Philippines-Manila last Tuesday.

Under the principle of objective responsibility, Santiago said a breach of international obligation occurs by result alone, even in the absence of negligence or fault.

“If the Philippine government resorts to the legal process to demand compensation, on record the Americans could have evaded any admission of guilt. Instead, the Americans could oppose any complaint in an international law tribunal, by raising the defense of sovereign immunity from suit,” she said.

Santiago described the incident as an “internationally wrongful act which entails the international responsibility” of the US.

Under international law, Santiago said the US government committed an internationally wrongful act when the warship ran aground in Tubbataha.

She said the destruction of the reef is attributable to the US and constitutes a breach of an international obligation.

She said the US is now under “obligation to make reparation in an adequate form” because there has been a breach of an international engagement.

While the regrets and compensation offered by the US ambassador to the Philippines are welcome, Santiago said it is not enough.

“In my view, the statement issued by the US embassy makes American compensation and other activities look like foreign assistance, for which we Filipinos are expected to be grateful,” Santiago said.

“International law is clear that whether or not there was negligence or fault on the part of the US warship, under the principle of state responsibility, the US government is responsible for the partial destruction of Tubbataha Reef, which some say will need 250 years to be fully restored,” she added.

Under the principle of objective responsibility, Santiago said the basic test is whether there has been a breach of international obligation.

“The US has accepted that it has committed such a breach of its international obligation. Therefore, the US government should stop referring to the Tubbataha event as an accident,” she said.