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Groups seek writ of kalikasan on USS Guardian grounding

Dennis Carcamo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Various people's and environmental groups will file on Wednesday a petition for a writ of kalikasan before the Supreme Court (SC) in connection with the grounding of US minesweeper USS Guardian in the Tubbataha Reef last January 17.

One of the petitioners, Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr., said among the respondents are officials of the Philippine government and the US navy.

The filing came exactly three months since the grounding of the ship in the protected area known as a United Nations Heritage Site.

The ship has since been removed and more than 2,000 square meters have been assessed to have been damaged by the US warship.

This is the first time foreign troops have been named respondents in the Philippine’s Writ of Kalikasan.

In their 90-page petition, the groups are asking the High Court for a Temporary Environmental Protection Order for the Tubbataha reef, a determination of the fine to be imposed on the US Navy and the prosecution of the officers of the Guardian.

The groups are also asking for a stop to US war games and port calls by US ships absent clear guidelines on environmental protection under the Visiting Forces Agreement.  

The petition cites in general, the violation of the right to a balanced and healthful ecology, and in particular, of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009, or Republic Act No. 10067.

Aside from Reyes, other petitioners included Bishop Pedro Arigo of Puerto Princesa,Palawan, Bishop Deogracias Iniguez Jr., Bishop-Emeritus of Caloocan, Frances Quimpo, Clemente Bautista Jr. of Kalikasan-Pne, Maria Carolina Araullo, Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares of Bayan Muna partylist, Roland Simbulan, Junk Vfa Movement, , Teresita Perez, Rep. Raymond Palatino, Kabataan partylist, Peter Gonzales of Pamalakaya, Giovanni Tapang, Elmer Labog of the, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Joan May Salvador of Gabriela,  and public interest lawyer Edsel Tupaz.

Named respondents in the petition are Scott Swift in his capacity as Commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, Mark Rice, Commanding Officer of The USS Guardian, President Benigno Aquino III, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario,Executice Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Environment Secretary Ramon Jesus Paje, Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano, Philippine Navy Flag Officer In Command, Armed Forces Of The Philippines, Admiral Rodolfo Isorena, Commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard, Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista, Philippine Coast Guard Palawan, Major Gen. Virgilio Domingo, Commandant Of Armed Forces Of The Philippines Command, Lt. Gen. Terry Robling, Us Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, And Balikatan 2013 Exercise Co-Director.

The petitioners are demanding a fine for the US that is 12 times the initial estimate of the Philippine government.

Comparing valuations in the 2009 grounding of the USS Port Royal in Hawaii, the petitioners peg just and reasonable compensation for the damage to Tubbataha between $16.8 and $27 million, a far cry from the $1.4 Philippine government estimate.

Aside from the fines, the petitioners want the US forces responsible for the Tubbataha grounding to be prosecuted under Philippine laws.

Petitioners believe that the respondents from the US Navy cannot invoke immunity under the VFA.

They also believe that the US war games and port calls by US war ships pose a threat to the environment especially since there are no clear guidelines under the VFA.
Petitioners are asking the High Court to require respondents from the US military to assume responsibility for prior and future environmental damage in general, and environmental damage under the VFA regime in particular. Meanwhile, petitioners are hoping that the TEPO will also include a stop to further US port calls and military exercises.

“It is our hope that the Supreme Court will act favorably on this petition and prevent further damage to our environment caused by the permanent and continuing presence of US troops," they said.

ADMIRAL RODOLFO ISORENA

ARMED FORCES OF THE PHILIPPINES

BISHOP DEOGRACIAS INIGUEZ JR.

BISHOP PEDRO ARIGO OF PUERTO PRINCESA

BISHOP-EMERITUS OF CALOOCAN

CLEMENTE BAUTISTA JR. OF KALIKASAN-PNE

HIGH COURT

PETITIONERS

PHILIPPINE

SUPREME COURT

TUBBATAHA

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