The USS Guardian, a 68-meter Avenger-class minesweeper of the US Navy, trespassed and subsequently ran aground the Tubbataha Reef National Park last January 17 98 nautical miles away from Puerto Princesa City. Authorities estimate that at least 1,000 square meters of coral reefs were destroyed, and is expected to have worsened as the ship pivoted a full 90 degrees while stuck in the reef.
The Tubbataha Reef is a 97,030-hectare Marine Protected Area in the Sulu Sea containing roughly 10,000 hectares of coral reefs. It is declared by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, and was nominated as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, generating $4.5 million in annual tourism revenues.
The park contributes around $16.8 million per year to the fisheries and tourism industries in the country. Its ecological role is critical for the productivity and health of the marine ecosystems not only of Palawan and the entire Visayas, but for the entire Coral Triangle, the geographic centre of world marine biodiversity which contains at least 40 percent of the world’s fish and 75 percent of corals.
This is not the first time US naval and military operations resulted in massive ecological destruction. Just last year, the tanker MT Glenn Guardian owned by US Navy contractor Glenn Marine Defense Asia dumped 440,000 liters of hazardous waste in Subic Bay which exceeded DENR safety standards over 700 times. The VFA Commission has long been reporting coral reef destruction and ecological pollution in Philippine waters as a result of naval maneuverings and and live fire exercises under the PH-US Balikatan military exercises.
We challenge President Noynoy Aquino to act decisively on the US government's disregard of Philippine national patrimony and sovereignty.
We, the undersigned, demand the following immediate actions:
1. Abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement, the US-PH Mutual Defense Treaty and other military agreements that are deemed detrimental to our patrimony and sovereignty.
2. Facilitate the immediate pullout of all US warships, aircrafts and troops stationed in the Philippines to prevent future incidents such as this.
3. Compel the US government and navy to fully rehabilitate and compensate the immediate damages and other ecological and socio-economic impacts to Tubbataha Reef and its marine peripheries to be determined by independent experts.