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Palace asks SC to junk kalikasan petition on Tubbataha grounding

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang has virtually shielded the officers and crew of the USS Guardian that ran aground on Tubbataha Reef last January from a bid of a multisectoral group to have them criminally accountable for the damage caused by the incident on the world heritage site.

Through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), the Palace asked the Supreme Court (SC) to dismiss a petition for writ of Kalikasan filed by a group of Catholic bishops, environmentalists, activists and lawyers last April.

Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza argued that the high court should not issue the temporary environmental protection order on Tubbataha Reef sought by petitioners simply because the “USS Guardian incident is fait accompli (an irreversible situation).”

The OSG stressed that the USS Guardian “has the right of innocent passage” and that the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) should not be raised as an issue.

“Because there were no joint military exercises during the grounding incident (Jan. 17, 2013), then the VFA does not apply,” the government counsel pointed out.

The OSG also said petitioners failed to establish a clear relation between the VFA and the environmental issues raised in their plea, which could justify relief they sought from the SC.

“The constitutionality of the VFA is long settled,” the OSG further argued.

In March 2010, the SC ruled with finality that the VFA between the Philippine and US government did not violate the Constitution. Last March, the high tribunal also thumbed down a bid of former vice president Teofisto Guingona Jr. and University of the Philippines law professor Harry Roque Jr. for renegotiation of the pact.

On technical ground, the OSG argued petitioners “do not represent the inhabitants prejudiced by the environmental damage subject of the petition for Writ of Kalikasan.”

The OSG added that the petitioners also failed to present valid evidence to support their claims.

Moreover, the OSG argued that the high court cannot intervene in the process involving damages and claims against the US government from the incident.

“Claims processing under the VFA resides exclusively with the executive department,” the OSG told the SC.

The comment was filed by the OSG last June 6 on behalf of the Palace, officials of the military and several Cabinet members who were named respondents in the case. It was received by petitioners last June 14.

Petitioners are pushing for higher penalties and criminal prosecution of US Navy officers and crew of USS Guardian.

In their earlier petition, the group asked the SC to assess the damage caused to the reef by the grounding of the Guardian and order a stop to US war games and port calls by US ships in the absence of clear guidelines on environmental protection under the VFA.

They also asked the high court to “stop all port calls and military exercises in the absence of clear environmental guidelines, duties, and liability schemes for breaches of those duties.”

Petitioners urged the SC to proceed with the case of US Seventh Fleet commander Scott Swift and Guardian commanding officer Mark Rice even without their answer, which the court earlier sought from the US embassy in Manila.

They said the respondents or their representatives should be required “to place a deposit to the Tubbataha Reef National Park Trust Fund as a  ‘reasonable guarantee’ towards full reparations in the sum of at least P58,375,080 or $1,459,377.”

The group also asked the SC to “provide just and equitable environmental rehabilitation measures and such other reliefs as are just and equitable under the premises.”

The petitioners include Bishop Pedro Arigo of Puerto Princesa, Palawan; Bishop Deogracias Iniguez Jr., Bishop-Emeritus of Caloocan; Frances Quimpo and Clemente Bautista Jr. of Kalikasan-Pne; Maria Carolina Araullo and Renato Reyes Jr. of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan; 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 MUNA REP

BISHOP DEOGRACIAS INIGUEZ JR.

BISHOP PEDRO ARIGO OF PUERTO PRINCESA

BISHOP-EMERITUS OF CALOOCAN

EDSEL TUPAZ

ELMER LABOG

OSG

PETITIONERS

TUBBATAHA REEF

VFA

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