From Global Nation Inquirer: No haggling over reef fine–Abaya
The penalty for the damage caused to the Tubbataha Reefs by a US Navy
minesweeper is non-negotiable, Transportation Secretary Joseph E.A.
Abaya said Sunday.
But to be able to conduct a thorough investigation, the
Philippine government should have access to the commanding officer and
crew of the USS Guardian which has been stuck in the marine park since
Jan. 17, Abaya said.
“Well, there are laws in place. I don’t think this is subject to
tawaran (haggling) or negotiation. I heard of the figure of $300 [fine]
per square meter. If that is really engraved in the law then there’s no
room for negotiation whether this is high or low,” he told reporters at
the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Abaya said he had yet to look into whether there would be a need
to impose an additional fine for the damage left by the minesweeper on
the world-renowned reefs pending its extrication.
On the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland,
President Aquino told reporters the US Navy would be held liable and be
made to pay for the damage.
The 63-meter, 1,300-ton ship, part of the US naval fleet
stationed in Japan, docked at the former American naval base in Subic
Bay on Jan. 12 for routine refueling, resupply and rest and recreation.
It was scheduled to make a brief stop at Puerto Princesa City
before heading off to its next port of call in India when it grazed the
reef and got stuck 128 kilometers off Palawan 11 days ago.
The US Navy said a faulty navigational map or possible errors in
the USS Guardian’s navigational system had caused it to stray into a
protected marine area.
US officials have apologized for the accident and the damage it
has caused to the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, a Unesco World Heritage
Site in the Sulu Sea.
Two ships from Singapore are due to arrive this week or the next to extricate the grounded ship from the reef.
This early, Abaya stressed the need for Philippine investigators’
free access to the commanding officer and crew of the grounded ship to
get a full picture of what happened.
“So we are conducting our investigation. It has been done since
Day 1 and, necessarily, to have a thorough and complete investigation is
we should have access to the duty personnel, the duty officer, and even
the commanding officer to at least get a chance to hear them out on
what actually happened so we could complete the picture of what
transpired,” he said.
But this has to be coordinated through the Department of Foreign Affairs, Abaya said.
“I have mentioned again to Secretary (Albert) del Rosario that that is an essential ingredient of the investigation,” he said.
Abaya reiterated that the government would insist on vetting the US Navy’s operation to salvage the ship.
“The least we would want is a scenario where they go about their
way without us knowing about it. The President has strictly instructed
us that any salvage plan should be vetted by the Philippine side and
should be approved by the Philippine side,” he said.
So far, the general feedback from environmental groups in the area was that the US Navy has been “transparent,” he said.
“Of course, not all information, if they consider it
confidential, is readily shared. But at least for public consumption and
for planning purposes, our counterparts from the American side have
been cooperating,” he said.