US to Pay Philippines $1.9 Million for Navy Ship Ramming Into Pristine Reef

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US to Pay Philippines $1.9 Million for Navy Ship Ramming Into Pristine Reef

'U.S. militarism is part of its fossil fuel-hungry drive in the Asia-Pacific region that damages and pollutes the environment,' Philippine group said

The USS Guardian is seen in March 2013 stuck in the Tubbataha reef. (Photo: U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Anderson Bomjardim)

The Philippines said Friday that the United States has agreed to pay $1.9 million in compensation for damage a U.S. Navy minesweeper caused to a pristine coral reef last year.

"I received correspondence just yesterday that the U.S. has agreed to pay the compensation," Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said at a Senate committee hearing.

In January 2013, the USS Guardian rammed into and got stranded in the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park after reportedly ignoring warnings from park rangers, causing damage to over 2,300 square miles of the park. The ship remained stuck in the reef for over two months, and had to be cut into pieces to be extricated.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, the park website describes it as being at the heart of the global center of marine biodiversity.

The fine officials had previously announced was $1.5 million, an amount denounced by critics as "a slap on the wrist" for the U.S. and "loose change compared to the long-term damage to the reef."

The $1.9 million is still far less than the $16.8 to $27 million fine environmental groups had said was due in a petition to the Philippine's Supreme Court .

Their petition demanded not only financial compensation for the reef-ramming but also environmental rehabilitation and prosecution of the Navy personnel involved in the incident.

In addition, it took a year and a half after the incident for the Philippines to submit its request for compensation to the United States, which environmental groups and one of the petitioners, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), said was a sign the Philippines was helping the U.S. dodge real accountability for its environmental crime and violation of sovereignty.

The Tubbataha transgression is not an isolated incident, Kalikasan PNE has stated, as defense agreements between the two nations and pending trade agreements "perpetuate climate injustice" and increase violations of Philippine sovereignty while increasing militarism in the region.

Leon Dulce, campaign coordinator of Kalikasan PNE, stated earlier this year that "the increasing interventionism of U.S. troops in the Asia-Pacific region completes their pincer approach to its pursuit mainly of fossil fuel reserves in the East Asian waters and other territories."

"U.S. militarism is part of its fossil fuel-hungry drive in the Asia-Pacific region that damages and pollutes the environment, as we have seen in the grounding of a U.S. warship in the Tubbataha Reef Natural Park. This in turn worsens the vulnerabilities of our grassroots communities to disasters and other climate change impacts," Dulce stated.

The military relationship between the U.S. and Philippines has been under heated scrutiny since a U.S. Marine's alleged killing of a transgender woman, Jennifer Laude, this month.

As Common Dreams reported this week:

"President Aquino belittles Jennifer Laude's murder by defending the VFA [Visiting Forces Agreement] and the neocolonial relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines," Bernadette Ellorin, chairperson of BAYAN-USA, an alliance of Philippine organizations in the U.S., told Common Dreams.

In particular, protesters are calling for the scrapping of the 1998 VFA between the U.S. and the Philippines, which allows U.S. military stationing and joint operations in the country and largely shields U.S. military service members from accountability under Philippine law. The VFA states that "the custody of any United States personnel over whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with United States military authorities, if they so request," and the deal has previously been used to shield U.S. service members accused of atrocities from Philippine jurisdiction.

Protesters say that Laude's killing is not an isolated case, but rather the U.S. has a long track record of committing atrocities against Philippine civilians, harming the environment, and displacing communities with impunity. "Jennifer's murder is only one of a vast history of crimes committed by U.S. [service members] on Philippine soil because of these unequal agreements," said Ellorin. "In addition, it's equally sickening how Aquino trivializes Philippine sovereignty by placing premium on ensuring U.S. military domination over the country."

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