SC orders US Navy to answer petition

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court (SC) has given due course to the bid of a multi-sectoral group for higher penalties against and criminal prosecution of US Navy officers and crew of the USS Guardian that ran aground in Tubbataha Reef last Jan. 17.

Justices of the high court yesterday approved the issuance of a writ of Kalikasan sought in the petition filed last week by two Catholic bishops, environmentalists, activists and lawyers.

The writ, however, is procedural in nature and does not have the effect of a temporary restraining order.

It only directed the respondents in the case – Scott Swift in his capacity as commander of the US 7th Fleet; Mark Rice, commanding officer of the USS Guardian; along with government officials led by President Aquino, the military and Cabinet members – to answer the petition within 10 days from receipt of notice.

The SC also did not immediately issue a temporary environment protection order (TEPO) sought by petitioners on the UNESCO world heritage site.

And just like in other Kalikasan cases, the high court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for hearing, reception of evidence and rendition of judgment.

A member of the court told The STAR they signed the resolution yesterday as the SC went into decision-writing recess. The order was already in the office of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno for release.

In a 90-page petition filed last week, the group asked the SC to assess the damage caused to the reef by the grounding of the Guardian.

Apart from issuance of the writ and TEPO, petitioners also sought a determination of the fine to be imposed on the US Navy and the prosecution of the officers of the Guardian.

Petitioners are also asking the SC to order a stop to US war games and port calls by US ships in the absence of clear guidelines on environmental protection under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

The filing came exactly three months after the grounding of the ship in the UNESCO world heritage site. The last section of the ship was removed last March 29 and more than 2,000 square meters of reef were assessed to have been damaged by the warship.

This is the first time foreign troops have been named respondents in the writ of Kalikasan.

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.

The petitioners include 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 and Renato Reyes Jr. of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan); Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares; Roland Simbulan of Junk VFA Movement; Teresita Perez; Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino; Peter Gonzales of Pamalakaya; Giovanni Tapang, Agham; Elmer Labog, Kilusang Mayo Uno; Joan May Salvador, Gabriela; Jose Enrique Africa; Theresa Concepcion; Mary Joan Guan; Nestor Baguinon, and public interest lawyer Edsel Tupaz.

Bayan, together with other petitioners, are seeking a fine 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 said the just and reasonable compensation for the damage to Tubbataha is between $16.8 million and $27 million, a far cry from the $1.4-million Philippine government estimate.

Four years ago under similar circumstances, they said the US Navy paid the state of Hawaii a total of $15 million for restoration and settlement for damage to an Oahu reef, which, while larger than Tubbataha, has not been identified as a world heritage site.

Petitioners said Tubbataha’s biodiversity concentration is 2.3 times more than that of the Hawaii reef.

As for their call for prosecution, petitioners said the US Navy cannot invoke immunity under the VFA. They also believe that the US war games and port calls by US warships pose a threat to the environment, especially since there are no clear guidelines under the VFA.

Chinese fishers face P1.4-M fines

The 12 Chinese fishermen whose vessel ran aground on Tubbataha Reef early this month face administrative fines of up to P1.4 million as well as prison terms of up to six years, the Tubbataha Management Offi ce said yesterday.

This is aside from the criminal charges filed against them earlier. The fi ne and the prison term covers violations of several provisions of the Republic Act 10067, the Tubbataha Law, specifi cally on unauthorized entry, non-payment of conservation fees and destroying and disturbing resources.

This fi ne “does not include the compensation for the coral damage and restoration as it awaits the result of the final assessment,” the TMO said. – With PNA












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