Palawan gov protests exclusion of Filipinos from Tubbataha assessment team
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - February 4, 2013 - 4:07pm


Palawan Gov. Baham Mitra on Monday protested the supposed exclusion of Filipinos from the team that assessed the grounding of a United States warship in Tubbataha Reef.

Mitra said the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board would draft a letter of complaint on the matter.

“Why (was) an assessment done without the Philippine representative as agreed previously?” Mitra said in a text message.

He said the board would soon inform Task Force Tubbataha about its plan to conduct its own assessment.

The task force, which is tasked to extract the grounded warship USS Guardian, includes members of the US Navy.

Mitra said the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board has also agreed to reject the offer of the Foreign Affairs department to mediate and request for arrangement with the US Navy.

“We understand the DFA is just doing their job but the other camp has not even communicated nor recognized the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board. Why should we make the first move when we are the aggrieved party?” he said.

Mitra said the imposition of penalties provided Republic Act 10067 cannot be considered as trivial. The said law establishes the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park as a protected area. 

He said such notion disregards the value that Palawan residents give to the law.

“We cannot treat our laws this way,” Mitra said. 

Tubbataha Reef has been named a Word Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization due to its extensive coral network.

The reef spans 130,028 hectares and was declared a protected area, which means that swimming or diving in the area requires special permits from the government.

The warship USS Guardian ran aground in the reef last Jan. 17, raising concerns about its possible impact on the protected area.

The 1,300-ton, 68-meter-long warship had just completed a port call in Subic Bay and was en route to Indonesia and when the grounding happened.

The US Navy has attributed the grounding to “faulty navigation chart data.”

Some lawmakers and groups, however, are not convinced by the US’s explanation and called for an investigation.

President Benigno Aquino III said the investigation on the grounding would continue even if the US has apologized for the incident.

The US Navy initially planned to lift the USS Guardian to minimize damage to the reef but eventually decided to chop it into pieces.

The US has vowed to provide “appropriate compensation” to the Philippines for the damage caused by the ship.

“In addition to compensation, the US government is planning a number of other activities which will underscore its commitment to Tubbataha’s recovery and the protection of the marine resources of the Philippines,” the US Embassy said in a statement.

The US Agency for International Development Coral Triangle has pledged P4.1 million to a Philippine university to support coral restoration research at Tubbataha Reef.

The US Embassy said it would also organize a roundtable with local coral reef conservation experts to discuss options for restoration of the reef.

The US is also forming an interdisciplinary scientific team that would tackle coral reef rehabilitation options with the government. The team would help assess damage and remediation options with Philippine officials and experts.

“The US government will offer to fund a site survey for proposed improvements to the existing ranger station on Tubbataha Reef,” the US Embassy said  

“Proposals could include the installation of radar and communications equipment that can assist Park Rangers and Philippine Coast Guard in avoiding collisions and keeping tabs on marine poachers,” it added.

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