26 Matulungin St. Central Dist., Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines, 1100

Tel./Fax; +63 (2) 924-8756 E-mail: secretariat@kalikasan.net  Website: www.kalikasan.net


17 January 2014

A year after Tubbataha Reef grounding: heads must roll over inaction

Green groups mark anniversary of USS Guardian grounding in Tubbataha with protests

Environmental activists from the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) led a protest action today at the United States Embassy on the anniversary of the grounding of the US minesweeper USS Guardian on the Tubbataha Reef Natural Park. Kalikasan PNE condemned the inaction of both the PH and US governments in the pursuit for compensation to the damages caused a year ago by the errant ship to 2,345 square meters of coral reefs in the critical marine ecosystem and world heritage site.

“Heads must roll for the inaction of both the PH and US governments to compensate for the damages in the Tubbataha grounding. We condemn the negligence and willful silence of US Ambassador Philip Goldberg over the PHP58-million indemnification that they owe us for the destruction in Tubbataha Reef,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

“We are calling for Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario’s resignation, not only for his gross negligence over the pursuit of compensation for the Tubbataha Reef grounding, but for actively serving as an apologist for the grave environmental crimes of US troops in the country. Amidst clear violations of domestic and international environmental laws that oblige the US government to pay, Sec. Del Rosario parroted the US government’s pathetic excuse that they will not pay yet due to pending legal actions on the Tubbataha grounding,” Bautista furthered.

The group joined fellow petitioners last January 16 in filing a third motion at the Supreme Court stipulating immediate payment from the US government for the damages they incurred in the grounding incident, and demanding for a Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) on US military exercises and operations in the Philippines, in the absence of clear and stringent environmental guidelines governing the activity of US troops within PH’s territories.

The petition cited various laws and precedents, including the Rio and Stockholm Declarations and the Polluter Pays Principle, which legally bind the US government to pay for the environmental damages they caused in Tubbataha Reef. US troops have remained unaccountable for their ecological impacts, however, as under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) they remain immune from local environmental laws.

A toxic trail by US troops over the Pacific

In a research released last Wednesday by the Kalikasan PNE assessing the track record of US military operations in the Asia-Pacific region, it was noted that the Tubbataha Reef grounding was just the tip of the iceberg insofar as environmental crimes are concerned.

“US troops have a dirty streak across the Asia-Pacific region, posing environmental threats or even directly causing destruction and pollution over the past century in the Pacific Islands, Australia, Japan, Philippines, South Korea, and even in their own country’s West Coast. US forces have resorted to various tactics from downplaying threats, collaborating with local military partners, and disputing responsibilities as they are still doing now. It begs us to ask questions: how much of these cases have they actually compensated for? How many cases have actually gone unreported?” Bautista noted.

The environmental group warned that adverse environmental impacts are likely to increase in the PH as well as in other Asia-Pacific countries with the US’ strategic repositioning of 60% of its troops, mostly naval forces, towards the region, as detailed in a 2012 US Department of Defense document signed by Pres. Barack Obama. The ongoing US-PH negotiations for a framework agreement on increased rotational presence of US troops in PH territories, which President Benigno Simeon Aquino III has personally defended, are also seen as an expression of this ‘pivot’ towards Asia.

“We are tired of the Aquino government’s token pronouncements on reviewing the VFA and other onerous US-PH defense treaties on one hand, and railroading policies promoting the further militarization of our seas and other territories on the other. That US troops have left a toxic trail across the country and the entire region should have been basis enough for us to refuse increasing US military intervention,” Bautista said.

“In fact, in the midst of the US government’s non-payment to the Tubbataha grounding, it continues to push its environmentally destructive military agenda as in the planned construction of a naval base to be accessed by the US Navy’s West Philippine Sea operations in the biodiversity-rich Oyster Bay in Palawan,” he pointed out.

A demand to protect PH’s environment, sovereignty

The protesters asserted that the US-Aquino regime clearly had no legal basis to delay demands for compensation and justice for the environmental damages in the Tubbataha grounding.

They also compelled Pres. BS Aquino to immediately act on several immediately doable solutions to the environmental impacts of US troops and bases, including the formulation of environmental guidelines on US troops, and until the stoppage of US military exercises and operations until the guidelines are implemented and until unfair bilateral agreements with the US have been eliminated.

“The Filipino must take Ambassador Goldberg, Sec. Del Rosario and Pres. BS Aquino himself to task for consciously hindering our claims for compensation and justice in the Tubbataha grounding. Most importantly, we reiterate our calls for the US government to compensate for the damages and losses they caused in their various environmental crimes, and ultimately repeal the Visiting Forces Agreement,” Bautista ended. ###

Reference: Clemente Bautista – 0922 844 9787

Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE)
No.26 Matulungin St. Bgy. Central, Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines 1100

Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE)
No.26 Matulungin St. Bgy. Central, Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines 1100
Tel. No. +63-2-9248756  Fax No. +63-2-9209099
Email: kalikasan.pne@gmail.com
Website: http://www.kalikasan.net