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Jan. 28, 2013 photo shoes the USS Guardian in the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea.  (Photo:  U.S. Navy)

US Pays Out 'Peanuts' for Eco-Crime Committed in Philippines

'The US Navy not only incurred considerable damage to our World Heritage site, they also clearly violated our Philippine sovereignty and laws,' said activist.

Andrea Germanos

The United States was required to pay just a paltry amount for an environmental crime and violation of the Philippines' sovereignty.

That's what critics are saying of the U.S. payout to the Philippines as compensation for damages a U.S. Navy minesweeper caused to a World Heritage-listed coral reef two years ago.

As Common Dreams previously reported:

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 Department of Foreign Affairs issued a statement Wednesday that the Philippine government received on January 20, 2015 the full amount requested from the United States—$1.9 million—as compensation.

But Philippines-based environmental activist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) said that amount is inadequate, as their studies have indicated that $17-27 million is order to cover environmental rehabilitation for the reef.

"The said financial compensation is not enough to release the U.S. from their liabilities and absolve the U.S. Navy for the crime that the U.S. Navy did in Tubbataha. The U.S. Navy not only incurred considerable damage to our world heritage site, they also clearly violated our Philippine sovereignty and laws," Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE, said in a press statement.

"You cannot simply pay off the fact that the personnel of the USS Guardian should be held criminally liable as they clearly violated Philippine laws and regulations," Bautista said, adding, "It is a shame that until now, not a single case has been filed by the Philippine government against the U.S. perpetrators."

Philippine lawmaker and environmental lawyer Rep. Terry Ridon echoed these concerns, and added that the case should have been taken to the international level.

"Reliance to Philippine law was erroneous in this case, as this is not a simple grounding of a mere shipping vessel. It is a grounding of a military vessel, which under international law is an extension of the sovereignty of a foreign state," Ridon stated.

"Clearly, we should not rejoice for we only received peanuts to cover for extensive damages in one of our prized marine sanctuaries," he said.

For Kalikasan PNE, the core of the issue is in agreements, like the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), and militarism that allow for the trampling of Philippines' rights. In addition to the Tubbataha Reef-ramming incident, the alleged killing in 2014 of a transgender woman, Jennifer Laude, by a U.S. soldier has put these agreements under scrutiny.

Leon Dulce, campaign coordinator of Kalikasan PNE, stated last year, "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."

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

Bautista concluded Wednesday that "environmental crimes and sheer disrespect to our sovereignty will persist as long as the implementation of the VFA, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, and other onerous and one-sided military agreements continue."

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