“Prince Albert, US sovereignty is apparently above Philippines’ environmental laws.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – An environmental group is appealing to visiting Prince Albert of Monaco to help make the US government accountable for its destruction of more than 2,000 square kilometers of the World Heritage site Tubbataha Reef in Palawan.
The Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) welcomed Prince Albert whose visit, they said, comes at the time that the country’s marine resources are “literally under siege.”
The head of state of the Principality of Monaco, who is also an environmental advocate, arrived in the country on April 6, and is set to visit the Tubbataha Reef.
“We ask you, Prince Albert, to speak on behalf of the Filipino people in reminding the world how our natural marine heritage was degraded, neglected, and shortchanged. We appeal to you, from one environmental advocate to another, to help us hold US militarism accountable for the environmental crimes it has grown accustomed to getting away with,” said Clemente Bautista, Kalikasan PNE national coordinator, in the group’s open letter to the visiting royalty.
Prince Albert, the United Nations Global Advocate awardee last year, is set to hold bilateral talks with President Aquino today.
On January 17, 2013, the US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian was grounded on Tubbataha Reef, destroying some 2,345 square meters of centuries-old coral reefs. A few days later, the Chinese poaching vessel, Min Yong-lu, also plowed into the reef, creating some 4,000 square meters of damage. The 12 Chinese on board were arrested for poaching.
In 2015, almost two years after the Guardian’s grounding, the US government paid $2 million in compensation to the Philippine government. Kalikasan PNE estimates that up to $27 million should be paid in compensation, as the reef will take decades before fully recovered.
“While the Chinese crew have been jailed by our local authorities, the USS Guardian personnel run scot-free… “Prince Albert, US sovereignty is apparently above Philippines’ environmental laws,” Bautista said.
Bautista decried that how the Supreme Court junked his group’s petition for a Writ of Kalikasan to hold the US accountable, saying that the case is not within its jurisdiction.
“The unequal military relations between the US and their local puppet government in the Philippines have allowed such impunity. The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) gives US military forces immunity from charges in domestic courts. Meanwhile, the recently railroaded Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) allows greater US military presence and even the return of what are essentially US military bases,” Bautista said.
He added that US military presence in the country “is both a cause and an effect” of Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea, which include the encroachment by Chinese poachers, coastguard ships, and reclamation activities.
“As you see, His Serene Highness, the Philippines and its natural wonders are caught in between a destructive conflict between two Asia-Pacific giants, and our government is a willing pawn in this game,” Bautista said.