SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Tubbataha in troubled waters

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/19 January) – The silence of Malacanang over the grounding Thursday of USS Guardian, a US Navy warship in Tubbataha Reef is sickening. Had it been a Philippine ship that ran aground in an American marine sanctuary we could expect US authorities to lose no time computing the damage and demanding commensurate penalties. Period.

Sadly, the same cannot be said of our officials. The Palace itself has played it coy. Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte was quoted in reports as saying, “We don’t want to make any speculations yet at this point. We want to proceed where everything has been thoroughly established before we make any further comment on this matter.”

It’s wise counsel to tell people to err on the side of caution. But Valte’s statement is something else. The Palace wanted to hear first what the US has to say before it breaks its self-imposed Omerta.

This was the same see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil stance taken by Malacanang when a US navy contractor, Glenn Marine Defense Asia Philippines, dumped hundreds of thousands of liters of sewage waste collected from visiting US ships into our seawaters. It’s been three months since that incident, and there has been no word if the proverbial monkeys have had a change of mind.

Valte further advised the media not to treat the incident as an offshoot of increased US military presence in the country.

Maybe there’s wisdom in her advice not to speculate at this stage. But there are some facts that aren’t just speculations, and which Malacanang has chosen to turn a blind eye to.

First, the Tubbataha Reef is a protected area. As provided for in Republic Act 10067, it is off limits to ships and those who wish to enter it must seek permission from its management. The US ship did not have such permission, thus its entry was a plain violation of Philippine laws.

Even Commodore Joseph Peña of the Naval Forces West expressed surprised why USS Guardian entered the reef. News reports quoted him as saying there are designated sea-lanes which are outside the protected area.

Furthermore, the ship’s crew displayed arrogance by aiming their guns at the park rangers who tried to approach the ship for an inspection. That’s not an act of an ally but of a bully.

I can’t see any provision in the Visiting Forces Agreement that allows US ships or soldiers to flout Philippine environment laws. I don’t think we have to sacrifice treasures like the Tubbataha Reef for the sake of a lopsided military agreement.

However, since we have allowed the Americans to dump toxic wastes into our seas, what will make them think they should be held liable for inflicting damage on a world heritage site? What will present them from showing more arrogance when we already allowed a GI convicted of rape from escaping our jail with assistance from government?

Nobody from the Philippine government has shown serious concern over the destruction in Tubbataha. For the Americans, that’s as good as an acquittal. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at