NAGA CITY (28-Jan-2013) – Two legislators from the Makabayan bloc filed a resolution today compelling the House of Representatives to condemn the refusal of the crew of US warship USS Guardian to recognize Philippine authority when the ship got stuck in the Tubbataha Reefs National Park.
Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino and Bayan Muna Partylist Rep. Teddy Casiño filed House Resolution 3012 today, which also calls on the Philippine government to halt all port calls, warship docking and other military exercises by US forces in the Philippines.
“This incident simply highlights how destructive – rather than protective – our country’s relationship with the US is. The Filipino people must take this as a cue. It is time that we rise against the bastardization of our national sovereignty,” Palatino said.
In the morning of January 17, US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian illegally entered Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in Sulu Sea, in what is now highly suspected to be an incident of “R&R gone wrong.” The warship subsequently ran aground at approximately 80 nautical miles southeast of Palawan, causing the destruction of thousands of square meters of protected coral reefs.
“Tubbataha is one of the best-protected and infamous natural resource of our country, and its haphazard destruction is an affront not just to the country’s biodiversity but also to our sovereignty. We are not buying the US Navy’s claim that the incident was a result of misnavigation: how could a minesweeper that has the capacity to detect ping-pong ball-sized mines under the sea not detect that it’s running head-on to a protected coral reef park?” Palatino said.
Initial assessment reports estimate that the mishap has damaged at least 1,000 square meters of protected coral reefs, which authorities say would take centuries to grow back.
Worse, reports from the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) also reveal that the US Navy barred Tubbataha park rangers from approaching the grounded warship. Marine park rangers repeatedly warned the USS Guardian via radio that the vessel was nearing the reef, but the ship captain reportedly refused communication with the rangers.
According to the TMO, when park rangers tried to approach the vessel to assess the situation, they noticed that the personnel of the ship were in battle position. TMO also reported that Philippine authorities nor the US embassy were not immediately informed by the US warship of the incident, necessitating park rangers to file an incident report to inform proper authorities of the incident.
“Not only did the US Navy illegally enter a protected area, it also refused to communicate with Philippine authorities early into the incident. This pompous act reeks of brazen disrespect to our laws and undermines our sovereignty,” Palatino said.
The resolution also criticized the proliferation of US vessels in the country in the past months. “The United States of America has made the Philippines its de facto military outpost as its warships enter our territories for unscheduled repairs, port calls, refuelling and rest and recreation for their crews. In 2012, the US military has made at least 197 port calls in Philippine territory,” a portion of HB 3012 read.
“We are thus not only condemning the refusal of the crew of the US warship to coordinate with Philippine authorities. We also call on the Philippine government to put a stop on all military port calls and military exercises conducted by the US military,” Casiño said.
“The US government has trampled on our sovereignty for so long. It is time to turn the tide. It is time for the Filipino people to retaliate,” Palatino ended.