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Legarda Calls For Vigilance in Guarding Philippine Waters

April 10, 2013

Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, today called on the Philippine Coast Guard to be more vigilant in guarding Philippine waters off Palawan after reports stated that a Chinese fishing vessel had struck another portion of Tubbataha Reef close to midnight Monday.

“The grounding of the USS Guardian of the US Navy and now this Chinese fishing vessel on Tubbataha Reef which is within Philippine territorial waters requires a serious review of how our Navy and Coast Guard patrol our maritime boundaries,” Legarda said.

The senator said while she recognizes the Navy’s and Coast Guard’s limited capabilities, additional resources, including patrol boats and personnel, must be thrown at Tubbataha Reef in view of the recent incidents.

“We cannot afford that every now and then Tubbataha Reef is damaged by straying of foreign vessels, big or small, into the area,” she said.

Earlier, Legarda had called for the full disclosure and accounting of the total damages arising from the grounding of the USS Guardian to help strengthen existing mechanisms to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.

She said the owner and crew of the Chinese fishing vessel should be put to task for encroaching on Philippine waters and damaging the reef, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

According to Legarda, Republic Act 10067, or the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act, clearly states that any damage to the reef shall subject the responsible person or entity to the payment of administrative fines set by the board based on current valuation standards, as well as the cost of restoration.

She said it is alarming that this jewel in our crown on biodiversity conservation efforts can be so easily accessed and damaged this way.

“Not all may be aware of the implications of coral reef degradation in our daily lives. Beyond aesthetics, corals serve a greater purpose in our marine ecosystems, because without them, marine species would practically be homeless. This incident should raise awareness about the status of our reefs and what else we can do to conserve them,” Legarda was earlier quoted as saying.

Initial reports from the Tubbataha Management Office identified the vessel as “being of Chinese origin,” a fishing boat with the marking 63168 and a crew of 12 Chinese nationals. It was not clear from the report if the vessel had authority to enter Philippine waters. The vessel got stuck at Tubbataha’s north islet where the Ranger Station is located.