"What is a minesweeper doing there in the first place?" was the question posed by partylist Rep. Teddy Casiño on Monday as reports revealed the US Navy's uncooperative actions towards the Tubbataha Reef park rangers.
The senatorial candidate said he did not understand why, based on reports by Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board head Angelique Songco, the USS Guardian's ship commander would "deploy personnel into battle position," forcing park rangers to back off when the latter merely attempted to survey the damage and offer help.
"Amid the incident happening in Philippine waters, causing irreparable damage to a world heritage site, Philippine authorities were deemed useless and in the dark. News reports said the military has yet to receive a 'request of assistance' 24 hours since the incident. Why should we wait for a request when we should be the ones on top of the issue? The Tubbataha Park Board had to file a formal protest with the US government to gain access to the USS Guardian," the progressive solon pointed out, noting Malacañang's wait-and-see attitude and deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte's statement “There’s no problem with us if our help is needed."
"Hindi ba teritoryo natin yan? Kailangan pa natin magpaalam sa US o antayin ang directive nila kung papayagan nila tayong tumulong habang tuloy ang pag-gasgas ng USS guardian sa Tubbataha Reef," said Casiño. Local officials have also commented that the Philippine government should take charge of the operations to ensure the reef's safety as opposed to the US Navy's concern for its ship.
The Bayan Muna representative expressed dismay at the dismissive response of the Aquino administration to the still worsening ecological destruction brought about by the US Navy minesweeper.
"The Tubbataha reef atolls are invaluable to the health and productivity of the entire marine ecosystem in the Sulu Sea and will directly affect the lives of the fisherfolk and nearby communities," he explained.
Casiño also questioned the US Navy's excuse about erroneous map data misplacing the Tubbataha Reef by eight nautical miles, while wondering about the possibility of the US minesweeper's presence in the area as preparation for offshore exploration activities.
He stressed that regardless of whether the unsanctioned activity is economic or military in nature, the presence of US warships is an affront to the country’s national sovereignty and patrimony. "This is why we have long been calling for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement. Biruin mo, US forces are free to enter our territory, use our ports for free and when these affronts happen they cite the VFA like it's a basis for their de facto immunity or at least their refusal to cooperate with other government agencies," said Casiño, alluding to the Subic Bay toxic waste incident and other instances involving the PH-US military exercises.
"The Aquino administration should support the abrogation of the VFA to ensure the integrity of our marine ecosystems, protect our fisheries and to effectively make erring US entities accountable," said Casiño.
Casiño is the author of House Joint Resolution 7, "A joint resolution terminating the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement" and House Resolution 1242, "A resolution strongly opposing the return of U.S. troops and military facilities in Clark or Subic or any part of the country under the pretext of the Visiting Forces Agreement in affirmation of the Filipino People's historic rejection of the RP-US Military Bases Agreement in 1991."
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