Press Release
January 19, 2013


SENATOR Chiz Escudero wants answers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on why a United States Navy warship was in Philippine waters.

He also said the US government should also be held liable for all damages after the USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper, ran aground on Tubbataha Reef.

"Did it have authorized access in the first place? Were we informed of its presence in our territory? Why can't we have official word from concerned authorities about the official status of the ship in our waters?," Escudero, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, said.

Calling the incident a "very serious one," Escudero said committee may launch a probe to uncover possible violations of Philippine and international laws.

The Philippine Coast Guard stationed in Tubbataha Reef said it radioed in the Guardian's unauthorized entry and that it caused damage to the reef.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Raul Hernandez could not say if the warship's entry was authorized or not.

"The reef's protection status has been severely violated, neglected. We are also looking at what other violations were incurred. We should demand not only for indemnity for damages but also for the restoration costs. Reefs are grown over centuries, the extent of the damage and what it will leave cannot be quantified in any amount," Escudero said.

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a 97,030-hectare Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Palawan. It is located 150 kilometers southeast of Puerto Princesa City, at the heart of the Coral Triangle, acknowledged as the global center of marine biodiversity.

The Coral Triangle is home to at least 40 percent of the world's fish and 75 percent of corals. Being in the center of the Coral Triangle, Tubbataha Reef plays a critical role in marine biodiversity preservation, Escudero said.

Reports say the USS Guardian ran aground in the South Atoll, one of the two atolls comprising the reef. The warship has started to sink, and most of its 79-man crew has already abandoned ship.

"The US government is in no position right now to act like the Big One in this matter. Our territory, our rights were violated. Therefore, we must demand excellent care when they free the ship from the reef. They already ignored the protection status of the reef once, and here they are again," Escudero said.

He also called on authorities to fully supervise and monitor the immediate extraction of the ship from the area to ensure that no further physical damage will be done to the reef.

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