The Supreme Court has approved a petition for a writ filed by a multi-sectoral group seeking higher penalties against and the criminal prosecution of the US Navy officers aboard a minesweeper that ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef on Jan. 17.
The writ, however, is procedural in nature and does not have the effect of a temporary restraining order. It only ordered the respondents in the case to answer the petition within 10 days of receiving it.
The high court also did not immediately issue a temporary environment protection order that was being sought by the petitioners on the UNESCO world heritage site.
But the Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals “for hearing, reception of evidence and rendition of judgment.”
The respondents in the case are Scott Swift in his capacity as commander of the US 7th Fleet; Mark Rice, the commanding officer of the minesweeper USS Guardian, the government officials led by President Benigno Aquino III, the military and the members of the Cabinet.
The USS Guardian damaged about 2,000 square meters of the Tubbataha Reef when it ran aground after its officers ignored the warnings of the reef’s minders that they were entering a protected site.
The ship was then removed piece by piece, and its last section was taken out on March 29. Its officers were relieved a few days later.
The petitioners in the case are seeking a fine against the United States that is 12 times the initial estimate of the Philippine government.
They say the just compensation for the damage to the Tubbataha Reef is between $16.8 million and $27 million and not $1.4 million, citing the $15 million that the US Navy paid to the state of Hawaii after the USS Port Royal went aground in 2009 and damaged a reef in Oahu, which is bigger but not a World Heritage Site like the Tubbataha. They say the Tubbataha’s biodiversity concentration is 2.3 times more than the Oahu reef’s.
The petitioners also want to prosecute the respondents in the case, saying the US Navy cannot invoke immunity under the Visiting Forces Agreement. They also want the Supreme Court to stop the military exercises between the Philippine and US forces.
The petitioners in the case include Bishop Pedro Arigo of Puerto Princesa, Bishop Deogracias Iniguez Jr. of Caloocan, Frances Quimpo, the group Kalikasan Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Bayan Muna and the Kilusang Mayo Uno.
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