By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – As it becomes clearer that the US Navy’s minesweeper USS Guardian could not just be dragged away from the erstwhile protected Tubbataha Reef — extraction supposedly by lifting is expected to take a week at least, said Philippine Coastguard Commander Isorena as reported by ANC — the US Navy has expressed “regret” over its minesweeper getting stuck at the protected, no-sail zone. But for many Filipinos, much remains to be heard from the US or Philippine government over the fiasco.
Palawan Gov. Abraham Mitra reportedly said while leading the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board meeting at their Capitol today that although the US blames faulty navigational charts, they have not yet explained why they are there in the Tubbataha area.
“We are deeply offended by this incident. While Filipinos strive to preserve world heritage sites in the country for future generations, one unforgivable act of US recklessness and arrogance leads to the damaging of a national treasure like Tubbataha. We can’t deny the hand of the US and Aquino’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in this crime,” Mai Uichanco, national secretary general of the League of Filipino Students (LFS), said.
Moratorium on entry of US warships, troops
Following news that US Navy warships, particularly the USS Guardian, have faulty digital naval charts, the LFS called for a moratorium on all navy port calls to Philippine territory, citing danger from these warships.
It is not the first time the US military has claimed faulty equipment as immediate cause of its damaging ‘accidents.’ Many ‘accidental’ US drone attacks in other countries such as in Afghanistan have also been explained by the US military as due to faulty something in their equipment or interpretation. All accidents cause deaths to local population. While in drone attacks the victims are killed instantly, in reef damage, studies of reef biology experts suggest the killing effect may extend for years from the reef to the marine life to the coastal people relying on the reef’s protection and fish production.
Uichanco also called attention to recent incidents that “prove the US’ bastardization of Philippine national sovereignty: the dumping of toxic wastes in Subic Bay by a US Navy contractor, a drone that crashed in Masbate, with the mishap at Tubbataha Reef being the most recent.”
The LFS has long been critical of US military presence in the Philippines, declaring the presence of US troops and other military equipment in the country as unconstitutional. Amid the growing list of US military sins on Philippine territory, the youth group questioned the increased entry of more US personnel “in the guise of helping out with the investigation.”
Aside from the LFS, the urban poor group Kadamay also warned that even as the Tubbataha Reef continues to sustain injuries from the stuck minesweeper, investigations on damages to the ship and the reef seem headed to a whitewash. The greatest obstacle, they say, is the Aquino government’s “allowing them to be part of the investigation committee” in the first place.
“Would a transgressor admit to being that and even entertain punishment?” asked Clemente Bautista of Kalikasan-PNE.
Calls to review, scrap VFA, Mutual Defense Treaty aired
Politicians and other green groups join progressive patriotic activists in demanding for at least a review or at best the scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Mutual Defense Treaty. These are the legal documents cited by presidents like Aquino in allowing the practice of unofficial US military basing in the Philippines.
“Aquino’s willingness to turn the Philippines into a US military base and his reluctance to junk the VFA and MDT reveals his loyalty not to the Filipino nation, but to his Imperialist masters,” Miguel Cruz, LFS deputy secretary general, said. The youth leader said it is up to the people then “to rally together and junk these pro-US treaties, and to reclaim the Philippines for the Filipino nation’s own democratic interests.”
“The Visiting Forces Agreement has been repeatedly used by the US government as a license to trespass on and violate our patrimony, natural resources and legal processes,” Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luz Ilagan said, adding,“ The United States has repeatedly violated our country and all of these are accepted by President Aquino with a smile.”