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Tubbataha disaster: Time for US to be held accountable

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang said yesterday it’s time to hold the US government accountable for the damage done to Tubbataha Reef by the USS Guardian, now that the minesweeper has been removed from the atoll.

“We maintain that there must be accountability and we will enforce our existing laws. We will adopt needed measures to prevent repetition,” Secretary Herminio Coloma of the Presidential Communications Operations Office said.

Last week, salvors removed the last piece of the Guardian, which ran aground at the marine sanctuary and remained trapped there for two months.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte expressed elation over the completion of the salvage efforts.

However, she was more cautious on the aspect of accountability, when no less than President Aquino himself has categorically declared that the government wants accountability for the damage.

“We thank everyone who has worked on this effort. We will be awaiting the results of the final assessment on the damage to the reef,” she said.

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 Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista, district commander of the Philippine Coast Guard in Palawan, said after the removal of the last piece of the minesweeper, salvors conducted debris cleanup, which is expected to be completed today or tomorrow.

He said after the cleanup, damage assessment would be conducted and this would be followed by rehabilitation.

Evangelista said experts from the US and the Philippines would conduct a joint assessment at the site. Tubbataha Reef marine park superintendent Angelique Songco said under Philippine laws, ships that run aground on Tubbataha are fined P24,000 for every square meter of damaged reef. She said the area of the reef damaged by the USS Guardian has been initially estimated at 4,000 square meters, but the assessment team would still have to check this.

“We will inspect the total damage to establish exactly what they have to pay,” Songco said.

The joint assessment would determine if the damage has worsened.

The assessment team includes marine biologists from the US, while the Philippines would send scientists and representatives from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, University of the Philippines, Department of Science and Technology, the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) and the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board.

During the assessment, the TMO will serve as the lead agency while the Coast Guard would provide support.

The assessment team would also provide recommendations on the rehabilitation of Tubbataha Reef, listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

 The team will also provide recommendations on the rehabilitation of the reef. – With Rainier Allan Ronda

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