Ganoon lang ‘yun?!-A A +A
Friday, February 1, 2013
FILIPINOS woke up on January 17, 2013 to news of an environmental accident at the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Marine Park off Palawan in the Sulu Sea.
The 1,300-ton, 68-meter-long USS Guardian struck a reef on the northwestern part of the Tubbataha's South Atoll and caused damage to a conservatively estimated area of 1,000 square meters. Interaksyon.com likened the size of the damaged area to that covered by two basketball courts.
It was, according to the Tubbataha Management Office, the “worst ever” since the office was established 12 years ago. In that period, there were nine incidents in the Tubbataha area but the effects of those combined, according to Park Manager Angelique Songco, are but half of the damage done by USS Guardian.
The USS Guardian is a minesweeper with Sasebo, Japan as its homeport. It is not an old ship, commissioned only in 1989 and launched two years before. It is equipped with state of the art technology; Wikipedia lists sensors, processing systems and electronic armaments and decoys in its profile of the ship. It has been valued at US$277 million.
The American Government issued an apology and the situation has progressed to a point where removal options have been looked into. Because the ship has been adjudged badly damaged, it was decided to remove the ship in sections rather than towing it or lifting it on another vessel.
The official apology notwithstanding, the USS Guardian incident raises more questions. President Aquino himself asked what a minesweeper is doing in a protected area. The explanation that the Guardian was headed to Puerto Princesa after a port call and refueling at Subic is causing people to go hmmm. That “faulty navigation chart data” was the excuse does not sit well with many quarters, not when the USS Guardian has a Precise Integrated Navigation System, a mine-hunting sonar and a surface radar, among others.
Whose values would prevail in the reckoning of culpability is also a question. Philippine laws apparently stipulate a fine of US$300 per square meter of damage; against the initial estimates of 1,000 square meters this roughly translates to PhP12 billion (US$1:PhP40).
But to Donald Trump, Jr. a “$1/4 bil” boat… is more important than a 200x50 section of reef that has already been run over.” He referred to the US Navy’s plan of scrapping the ship to avoid scraping more corals as an indication of “(This is) how stupid we are!”
Although not the official government position, Trump Jr.’s view and other uncaring and arrogant statements unnecessarily add salt to the injury.
Earlier, Tubbataha Park officials said that they had warned the USS Guardian that it was on protected waters. The Guardian allegedly radioed back to "bring [their] complaint to the U.S. Embassy.”
To many Filipinos and conservationists the 130,028-hectare Tubbataha is priceless, having been declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) a World Heritage Site in 1993. The Park’s extensive coral network and 358 species of mostly hard corals make it among the top eight dive sites in the world.
The US Government said that it could take a month for the removal work to be finished. But for a good sense of the implications, contrast that with the data provided by InterAksyon.com that it takes a year for a millimeter of hard coral and 250 years for a meter to grow.
Our country’s response to the USS Guardian incident is also a test of how well we are able to assert and defend our patrimony. In the past, Philippine Government efforts to thwart and punish poaching in the waters of the Tubbataha have not been very successful if the images of the numerous dead sea turtles, harvested corals and other marine life are to be the gauge.
The many views point to the different and often competing ways in which natural resources are valued. Amid the apologies and the estimates one could not help but incredulously exclaim “Ganoon lang yun?! and mull over notions of loss and value. How many times have our resources been lost to us, their values only appreciated after they were gone? How many times have non-Filipinos and Filipinos in cahoots with them made away with our resources, and our awareness of the implications of that only after the fact?
The point being, borrowing from JRR Tolkien, that “what we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly” and that sometimes it takes loss for one to fully appreciate what one once had.The Point Being
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Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 02, 2013.