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Legarda Deplores Troubling Pattern of Environmental Assault Resulting from US Ship Visits

January 19, 2013

SENATOR LOREN LEGARDA EXPRESSED CONCERN OVER WHAT SHE SAID WAS A “TROUBLING PATTERN OF ENVIRONMENTAL ASSAULT” THAT HAS RESULTED FROM THE VISITS BY UNITED STATES NAVAL SHIPS IN THE COUNTRY.
Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, noted the failure by the US authorities to coordinate the movements and route of the USS Guardian while in Philippine waters.
“Our Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and other treaties with the United States government is not a free pass so US ships and military personnel can do as they wish in our country, including the destruction of the environment and protected sites in our country,” the Senator said.
On Thursday, the USS Guardian, a minesweeper, grazed parts of the Tubbataha Reef and eventually got stuck some 80 miles off Palawan. Some reports indicate that at least 10 linear meters of the reef may have been damaged.
Legarda now wants the Presidential Commission on the VFA (VFACOM) and the Philippine Coast Guard to explain how the USS Guardian was allowed to venture into the Tubbataha Reef.
“The VFACOM is tasked to monitor, in coordination with appropriate government agencies and NGOs, the activities of foreign military and civilian personnel,” Legarda said. “What kind of coordination was carried out when officials on board the USS Guardian refused to respond to the radio calls made by Philippine authorities who were investigating their presence in our protected area?” the Senator asked.
Republic Act 10067 or the Tubbataha Reefs National Park Act of 2009 declares the area off limits to ships, the area being a protected site. The Tubbataha management office said the US ship entered these areas without permission and failed to coordinate with environmental officials.
“This incident behooves me to ask if our so-called military allies are even aware of the laws that they have to respect and observe while they are in our country,” the Senator added.
Executive Order 199 mandates the VFACOM to “ensure respect for Philippine laws, state policies, public morals, customs and traditions and strict compliance with the provisions of the VFA and the rules and regulations promulgated by the concerned Departments and Agencies.”
It may be recalled that in October 2012, the US navy contractor, Glenn Marine Defense Asia Philippines, was found to have dumped into the seawaters under the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone, hundreds of thousands of liters of sewage waste collected from visiting US ships, in contravention of Philippine and international laws and regulations. Legarda conducted an investigation on the matter and is expected to release the report.
“While we obviously need to make the US accountable for the destruction they caused, more importantly, we need to look beyond the ‘pesos and cents’ and see how instruments such as the VFA can truly serve our national interest,” the Senator said.
“An accounting needs to be done, not just of this recent incident, but of the totality of the activities done under the ambit of the VFA over the past decade” Legarda concluded.