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US Accused of Skirting Responsibilities for Egregious Philippine Reef Disaster

'I don’t buy their alibi' says Philippine Senator

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

The United States is trying to skirt its responsibility to pay for damages after a US Navy minesweeper rammed into a pristine coral reef in the Philippines, a Filipino advocacy group and lawmaker warned this week.

Part of the Guardian being removed by a crane on March 26, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kelby Sanders/Released) Philippine Senator Chiz Escudero said on Wednesday that the United States should “pay up in cash” instead of the suggestion that the U.S. would instead merely pay the already meager fines “in kind"—meaning donations or aid loans, the Manila Standard reports.

“I insist that the US government pays up in cash. The suggestions that they would settle their obligations through donations or aid loans are not acceptable. They should follow what the Philippine law required for the incident,” Escudero said in a statement.

Escudero added:

I don’t buy the alibi given by the US Navy that the compass of the vessel failed to function and it lost its way when it rammed the reef, even Christopher Columbus used only a compass in discovering the New World. How can a modern American war vessel be sailing aimlessly?

“The penalty imposed on vessels that cause destruction to the country’s protected areas should, however, be increased since the fine under the current law is too small compared to the actual damage caused,” Escudero added.

Likewise a group of Filipino public figures and an advocacy group filed a petition this week with the Filipino Supreme Court, urging the government to increase the penalties and criminal prosecution against the US Navy officers responsible for the disaster.

The USS Guardian damaged over 2,000 square meters of the Tubbataha Reef when it ran aground after officers ignored warnings that they were entering a protected site surrounding the reef.

The petitioners in the case, including Bishop Pedro Arigo of Puerto Princesa, Bishop Deogracias Iniguez Jr. of Caloocan, Frances Quimpo, the group Kalikasan Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, and others, say that the original $1.5 million for the egregious incident is not nearly enough.

Like Former Philippine Sen. Jamby Madrigal, who called the fine "loose change compared to the long-term damage to the reef" and urged that "offenders must be taught hard lessons," the petitioners say the current fine is nothing but a slap on the wrist. Instead they are seeking a fine nearly 12 times the initial amount.

The Manila Standard reports:

They say the just compensation for the damage to the Tubbataha Reef is between $16.8 million and $27 million and not $1.4 million, citing the $15 million that the US Navy paid to the state of Hawaii after the USS Port Royal went aground in 2009 and damaged a reef in Oahu, which is bigger but not a World Heritage Site like the Tubbataha. They say the Tubbataha’s biodiversity concentration is 2.3 times more than the Oahu reef’s.

The petitioners also want to prosecute the respondents in the case, saying the US Navy cannot invoke immunity under the Visiting Forces Agreement. They also want the Supreme Court to stop the military exercises between the Philippine and US forces.

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