One year after Tubbataha Reefs disaster, groups demand action from Aquino government

By National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)

“Just where does the buck really stop?” — NUPL

Environmental, academic and religious groups today pressed the Supreme Court to immediately issue a protection order for the Tubbataha reefs, one of the reliefs afforded by a writ of kalikasan.

One year after the grounding of the USS Guardian off the coast of Palawan, the groups lamented the lack of action, political will, and foresight by the Philippine government.

In April last year, civil society groups and concerned citizens led by Puerto Princesa bishop Rev. Pedro Arigo filed a petition for a writ of kalikasan before the Supreme Court. The petition urged the Philippine government to stop all activities — including salvaging and clean-up efforts — in the area pending a comprehensive study of how these would impact the biodiversity of Tubbataha.

The petitioners today trooped to the Supreme Court to file a third motion for a temporary environmental protection order. “Typical of the BS Aquino administration, it has been purposely slow and infuriatingly biased as it concentrates on politicking rather than deciding for the good of the people. We are seeking relief from the judiciary where the executive has defaulted. Where does the buck really stop?,” said Atty. Edre U. Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), co-counsel for the petitioners.

“The failure of this government to address and correct this appalling offense is not only a high act of indolence, but also an international ignominy. The Tubbataha reef is an important environmental area, which is precisely why it has been declared protected. We have declarations, laws, and regulations that are all for naught as the Philippine government sits on our rights,” said Atty. Olalia.

He reiterated that Republic Act No. 10067, or the “Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) Act of 2009”, along with international precedents demand that the government apply a more prudent and long-term plan to rehabilitate the reefs. The government should have dispatched a team of experts and conducted consultations with affected local government units. Total reparations should also be at US$16.8 up to US$27 million, instead of the PhP58 million or about US$1.29 million offered by the US government.

According to confirmed reports, the Philippine government has not even made a single claim yet. Lead counsel Atty. Edsel F. Tupaz said, “Is the refusal to make a claim against the United States of America a political act immune from the rule of law? If the USS Guardian had itself grounded in American waters, the United States of America will be liable under every one of its own laws, state and federal alike.”

The lawyers also harped on the continued presence of US troops sanctioned by the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

“To date, the armed forces of the United States of America are allowed by the Republic of the Philippines to make use of its ports for sundry ‘port calls’. Suppose our courts of law choose to dismiss the people’s claims, suppose our courts dismiss suits of this magnitude and whose damage is admitted by no less than the US. What then will be one’s assurance that the same or similar negligence will not be bargained away by political whims?”, said Atty. Tupaz.

“The Visiting Forces Agreement has been a thorny legal issue especially for Philippine sovereignty. The Subic rape case to the Tubbataha disaster are but two of the ugly sides of subservience to foreign interests. The Tubbataha incident cuts across generations and politics. It is the concern of all. When can we really assert our national sovereignty, let alone our basic dignity as a people against a supercilious bully superpower who despoils our land, sea and air like a roving band of pirates answerable to no one?”, said Atty. Olalia.

Atty. Edre U. Olalia
NUPL Secretary General

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