World | Philippines

Philippine senator seeks probe of coral destruction

US Navy ship allegedly destroyed 1,000 square metre corals

  • By Barbara Mae Dacanay, Bureau Chief
  • Published: 15:35 January 23, 2013
  • Gulf News

Manila: Senator Loren Legarda filed a resolution asking for a “full senatorial inquiry” on the destruction done by a US Navy warship, now estimated by the presidential palace at 1,000 square metre of corals in the Tubbataha Reefs National Park in southwestern Philippines.

Legarda, head of the Senate committee on foreign affairs, called for a “full disclosure and accounting of the total damage (of the coral reefs in Tubbataha, done by USS Guardian on January 17),” adding this will help “strengthen existing mechanisms for protecting the World Heritage Site”.

“Those responsible for the damage on the Tubbataha Reef should own up and pay up,” Legarda said, adding, “This incident highlights the need to ensure full protection of the Philippines’ marine resources by all vessels, foreign or domestic, within territorial waters amidst geo-political developments in the region.”

“We have received reports that the personnel of the US Navy ship failed to coordinate closely with the personnel of the protected area (the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board or TPAMB) even as their ship had already destroyed an estimated 10 metres of corals,” Legarda said.

On Monday, TPAMB sent a notice to the US Navy for administrative fines for unauthorized entry to the protected area.

Meanwhile, Edwin Lacierda, spokesman of President Benigno Aquino, said the USS Guardian has damaged 1,000 square metre out of Tubbataha’s Reef’s 97,030 square metres.

“(Even if the damage represents one percent of the total area of Tubbataha) it’s (still) a damage to a World Heritage Site. It’s a damage to our natural resource. It’s a damage to an important site. We cannot but emphasize on the importance of this reef as a heritage site,” Lacierda said.

Noting that the close US-Philippine ties should not get in the way of enforcing Philippine-initiated fines, Lacierda said, “We have the law. We will enforce the law. I spoke with Secretary Albert del Rosario last Monday and we are determined to press our claim.”

It could also be elevated to the United Nations, said Lacierda.

In response to claims filed by the TPAMB, USS Guardian spokesman Lt. Cdr. James Stockman told GMA News Online, “It will be handled in accordance with the Foreign Claims Act.”

It was a natural procedure, said Stockman, in response to TPAMB’s complaint that park rangers were reportedly barred from entering the USS Guardian and prevented by the ship commander from assessing what happened on January 17.

At the same time, Philippine and US authorities are currently working together to extricate the USS Guardian from coral reefs, senior officials said.

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