By Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 17, 2014 – 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) was asked yesterday to finally rule on the petition of several groups seeking higher penalties and criminal prosecution of US Navy officers and crew of the minesweeper USS Guardian that ran aground on the world famous Tubbataha Reef exactly a year ago today.
In an 11-page manifestation, petitioners led by Puerto Princesa, Palawan Bishop Pedro Arigo reiterated their plea for issuance of a temporary protection order (TEPO) enjoining respondents from conducting military exercises and port calls until clear environmental guidelines, duties and liability schemes for breaches are put in place.
They also sought the Court’s issuance of a TEPO requiring US officials and their representatives to place a deposit in the Tubbataha Reef National Park Trust Fund as a gesture towards full reparations in the amount of P58.37 million.
They pointed out that under international and domestic laws such as the Polluter Pay Principles, Rio and Stockholm Declarations, the US government is legally bound to pay for environmental damages brought about by its military forces and assets in other countries.
“The US government simply has no excuse not to immediately pay at least P58 million for the damages that it has incurred in Tubbataha Reef, but it still has not complied with the prescribed indemnification a year after,” lamented the petitioners.
The USS Guardian damaged around 2,345.67 square meters of the reef when the ship ran aground in the Tubbataha Reef, which is a United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site on Jan. 17, 2013, exactly a year ago today.
The vessel was stuck in the marine park for 10 weeks until salvage teams removed the last piece on March 30 last year.
The groups also asked the High Court to require the respondents to undertake measures to rehabilitate the areas affected by the grounding of the Guardian.
The Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of National Defense, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, they said, should review the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Mutual Defense Treaty to determine whether there are provisions that ensure protection of the environment.
The STAR earlier reported that the US embassy in Manila has not responded to the high court’s request for comment on the petition that named US Seventh Fleet commander Scott Swift and Guardian commanding officer Mark Rice as among the respondents. – With Delon Porcalla, Michelle Zoleta