The greater shame-A A +A
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
THEORIES as to why a US Navy minesweeper ended up in Tubbataha Reef Marine Park in Sulu Sea ranged from the sinister to just plain ridiculous: “It’s the Spratlys conflict.” “China planted sea mines in the area.” “US sailors wanted a free dive in Tubbataha.”
Tempers rose. The VFA was called into question. US Navy sources cited the possibility of “faulty digital navigation chart data” (uh… wrong map?). Another blamed strong currents. The ship was reportedly going to Indonesia for a training exercise after a port call in Olongapo and a cancelled fuel stop in Puerto Princessa.
Concerned agencies and the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park Management office demanded a fuller explanation. Particularly when officers onboard the USS Guardian simply refused to respond to their radio calls, and when marine park rangers assigned to approach the encroaching vessel beheld armed US soldiers in full battle position!
With a heavy heart, I read the artfully scripted “regret” released by U.S. 7th Fleet Vice Admiral Scott H. Swift. It is probably the closest we will ever get to an apology for heavy-handed American behavior on Philippine seas and for damaging our treasured national reef.
It is indeed a great, great shame when a small, developing country like the Philippines has to swallow its pride and sacrifice some of its sovereignty in exchange for superior military defense and national stability.
But to me, the greater shame is that the majority of Filipinos can neither spell the word nor place the wondrous Tubbataha Reef on the Philippine map.
Tubbataha Reef is one of only 188 natural sites the UNESCO World Heritage Committee considers as having “outstanding universal value from the point of view of science, conservation or natural beauty”. It is one of the Philippines’ oldest marine ecosystems with awe-inspiring marine biodiversity. It is also internationally recognized as one of the most beautiful coral reefs on the planet.
For me, the greater shame is that many Filipinos are probably more familiar with the Grand Canyon, USA, and less of Tubbataha Reef, Sulu Sea.
Of an illustrious list of 962 natural, cultural and mixed natural/cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites, five (5) are in the Philippines: 1. Banawe Rice Terraces 2. Baroque Churches of the Philippines 3. Historic Town of Vigan 4. Puerto Princessa Subterranean River 5. Tubbataha Reef Marine Park.
The list also includes the Iguazu Falls, the Swiss Alps, the city of Verona, the town of Firenze, the Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal , Borobodur Temple, the Palace of Versailles and the Acropolis of Athens. Talk about being in good company!
The value of a country’s natural and cultural heritage is immeasurable. Heritage sites are common threads that bind us together as a community and as a nation, which we can proudly share with the world as our very own.
Our greater shame is in having so much in the Philippines to be proud of and yet we often fail to know, value, love and defend our nation.
That’s a crying shame!
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 23, 2013.