De Lima: Complaint vs US Navy officials over Tubbataha incident premature-A A +A
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
MANILA -- Cases against officers and crewmen of the USS Guardian minesweeper that ran aground at Tubbataha Reef will not be initiated by the Department of Justice (DOJ) pending result of the investigation into the incident by the Philippine Coast Guard.
In a chance interview, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said DOJ has to give way for the probe first before taking any action on the letter sent to her office last Monday by militant fisherfolk Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya).
"What would be the basis of the DOJ? It was a mere letter of appeal. The DOJ has no basis at this point to take legal action until the result of the investigation is released," she told reporters Tuesday.
In its letter, Pamalakaya said the DOJ is mandated and morally obliged to undertake legal action against Rear Admiral Jeffrey Harley and Lieutenant Commander Mark Rice of the US Asia Pacific military command and the 79 crew members of USS Guardian.
The group said the ship's damage to the protected reef estimated to be 4,000 square meters should be enough reason to file criminal charges against the Americans.
"We have done our part. The ball is now in her (de Lima) court," Pamalakaya spokesperson Gerry Corpuz told Sun.Star.
Under the law, a fine of $300 for every square meter of damage is imposed on violators. Tubbataha Park Management officials also said an equivalent amount is also needed to rehabilitate the same area of damaged coral.
For its part, environmental group Kalikasan PNE scored the $100,000-pledge of the US government for coral rehabilitation, saying it is just a "dismal amount compared to the actual cost resulting from their actions."
"It is an insult that these American trespassers bring up their previous grants and aid to local marine conservation projects as if 'may utang na loob tayo sa kanila' and these make their violations of our law and the damage done to the Tubbataha Reef easier to swallow," said the group's national coordinator Clemente Bautista.
The US government had already expressed its regrets as it promised to provide appropriate compensation to the Philippine government for damages caused by the grounding of the ship in Tubbataha last month.
As this developed, President Benigno Aquino III said Tuesday that the US government has pledged to send Peace Corps Volunteers to speed up the rehabilitation of the damaged Tubbataha Reef in Sulu Sea.
In an interview in Davao City, the President said the US government will not only compensate for the damage caused by the grounding of the USS Guardian but they also promised to assist in the rehabilitation of the protected marine sanctuary.
"It was Ambassador (Harry) Thomas who said that they are not just going to compensate us in terms of paying the necessary fines, but they are also envisioning how to assist the rehabilitation of Tubbataha to include posting Peace Corps Volunteers to the area to accelerate the rehabilitation of the reef," the President said in an interview following the 2013 Philippines Development Forum (PDF) in Davao City.
Asked if his administration is open at looking at other possible international conventions that can be applied to the incident, the President said he wants to impose the country's laws as a response to the crisis.
He noted that he has not seen the salvage operations plan and he expects Transportation and Communications Secretary Jun Abaya to present the plan Tuesday or Wednesday.
The USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper, ran aground on Tubbataha Reef last January 17.
Officials said the grounding caused damage to 4,000 square meters of coral on the reef, which was recognized as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
(Virgil Lopez/Jill Beltran/Sunnex)