Pinoys slam US military’s “environmental massacre” on the Tubbataha Reef

Jan. 27, 2013

“The latest environmental crime committed by the US Navy adds up to other environmental offenses by US imperialism and kowtowed by the Aquino government” — Rubi del Mundo, spokesman for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines-Southern Mindanao

Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The Filipino people would have to wait a year for every millimeter of hard corals to grow and another 250 years for a meter of hard corals to mature in the Tubbataha Reef, marine experts said.

This after the United States minesweeper, the USS Guardian, damaged the 1,000 square meters of the Tubbataha Reefs National Marine Park in Palawan on January 17.

Two and a half centuries is too long and way too much, especially for the fishermen in the West Palawan Sea and Sulu-Celebes Sea.

The reef provided an average fish production of 800,000 metric tons of fish for the fishermen in these areas.  The damage on the reef would heavily affect their catch and the overall fish production in the country.

“What the US Navy did is environmental massacre,” Fernando Hicap, chair of the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), reportedly said.

Consider this:  The damage caused by the US naval warship is equivalent to two basketball courts or 33 low-cost condominium units at 30 square meters each or a third of the Manila Cathedral’s 3,000 square-meter compound (

“The latest environmental crime committed by the US Navy adds up to other environmental offenses by US imperialism and kowtowed by the Aquino government,” said Rubi del Mundo, spokesman for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines-Southern Mindanao, in a statement.

Environmental offenses, according to Del Mundo, include the massive denudation of Philippine forests for continued corporate logging, large-scale open-pit mining, widespread land use conversion due to commercial agriculture, and rapid expansion of coal-fired power plants.

Answers to the how and why the naval warship entered the 97,030-hectare marine sanctuary, when it’s considered a no-navigation zone, remained hard to believe, if not, totally suspicious.

The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is almost 40 percent the size of Davao City, the world’s largest city in terms of land area which covers 244,000 hectares.

The US Navy said possible errors in the ship’s navigational system caused them to stray into the no-navigation zone or the navigational map misplaced the Tubbataha Reef.

But park authorities have already issued warnings to the USS Guardian that it was entering a protected area, yet it still proceeded to enter.

Apology’s not enough

“This was an unfortunate accident,” US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. said in a statement as he conveyed the US government’s apology to the Philippine government and the people over the USS Guardian’s “grounding” on the Tubbataha Reef.

Thomas said the US recognized “the legitimate concerns over the damage caused to a unique and precious wonder of nature, internationally recognized for its beauty and biological diversity.”

President Noynoy Aquino said the US Navy will still be held answerable under the Philippine laws and has ordered for investigation.  However, he said, the apology of the US government showed its respect the Philippines as a sovereign state.

“How could he say we are being respected when all this time the US has reduced the identity of the Philippines to nothing more than a military base for its troops? Were the crew of the USS Guardian showing respect when they blatantly ignored the warnings radioed to them by our environmental authorities, or when they met with hostility the park rangers attempting to inspect their ship?” said Mai Uichanco, secretary general of the League of Filipino Students.

The Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB), it its statement dated January 22, said they are asking the USS Guardian to take responsibility and immediately pay the fines.

TPAMB provided the list of violations by the US Navy under RA. 10067: unauthorized entry (Sec. 19), non-payment of conservation fee (Sec. 21), obstruction of law enforcement officer (Sec 30).

It added that the park has suffered physical damage which cannot be accurately estimated as of the moment.  The US Navy also violated: damages to the reef (Sec. 20) and destroying of resources (Sec. 26G).

Put it simply, the US apology is definitely not enough.

“The incident in Tubbataha is simply unforgivable,” said Raymond Palatino, representative of Kabataan Party-list.

Pamalakaya said the fisherfolk should file a class suit against the US government and seek damages for their immediate and future claims, though they still don’t know yet how much to demand.

The Communist Party of the Philippines also said that the people must demand reparation for the intrusion and destruction of Tubbataha reef as it called for an end to the continuous entry, docking and patrolling of US nuclear-capable warships in Philippine seas.

Scrap VFA

With the Tubbataha incident, calls for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and other “one-sided” agreements have been revived.

Kabataan’s Palatino has scored continued presence of US troops in the country, saying they have been attacking the nation’s sovereignty in all terrains — land, air and this time, the territorial waters.

But for President Aquino, the VFA has nothing to do with the Americans going to Tubbataha, saying there are no joint military exercises there.  He said, what happened is just a question of violating certain ecological laws.

“How does he plan on penalizing the USS Guardian’s crew when the VFA exempts US troops in the country from Philippine law?,” Uichanco said as she noted that port calls are sanctioned under the VFA.

“It highlights the latter’s (Aquino government’s) puppetry to the worst destroyers of our environment,” NDF’s Del Mundo said.

“No self-respecting country will allow its sovereignty to be insulted and trampled upon by the unrestricted movement of another country’s military forces within its territory.  No self-respecting country will take the destruction of its natural resources by foreign military forces lightly,” emphasized Elmer Labog of the labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno in a statement.

The Tubbataha Reef is a World Heritage Site declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1993.  It is home to 600 species of fish, 360 species of corals (about half of the world’s all coral species), 11 species of sharks, 13 species of dolphins and whales, 100 species of birds, and is also a nesting place for Hawksbill and Green sea turtles.  (Alex D. Lopez/

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