[The 1,300-ton, 68-meter-long USS Guardian ran aground at dawn of Jan. 17, 2013 at Tubbataha Reef’s south atoll, raising concerns about its possible impact on the area. Tubbataha, which covers 130,028 hectares, was proclaimed a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1993. Because of its extensive coral network, the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Marine Park in the Sulu Sea has been declared a protected area. The USS Guardian was reportedly on its way to Puerto Princesa in Palawan after a port call and supply replenishment in Subic Bay when the incident happened. The US Navy has blamed “faulty navigation chart data” for the incident. US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. has expressed regret for the incident and promised to help in assessing the damage and extricating the ship as expeditiously as possible.]

MANILA, APRIL 8, 2013 (PHILSTAR) (Xinhua) - The Philippine government does not see the need to file a diplomatic protest against the United States after the extrication of its stuck Navy ship and the damage assessment have been completed on the Tubbataha Reef off Sulu Sea, a senior government official said today.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte, in a text message to reporters, said that Washington has been cooperating so far on the investigation into the grounding of USS Guardian.

"A diplomatic protest may be unnecessary at this point given that the United States has been cooperating with our maritime investigation and has committed to the compensation and rehabilitation of the reef," she said.

[THE TUBBATAHA REEF OF THE PHILIPPINES- A WORLD HERITAGE SITE: “The damage caused by the US Navy minesweeper on Tubbataha will have a huge negative impact on the yearly fish production in major fishing areas near and highly dependent on the capability of the reef to spawn and breed fish species,” Hicap said. He said the average fish production in West Palawan Sea and Sulu-Celebes Sea is about 800,000 metric tons per year. “But we expect this to decline because of the environmental mishap,” Hicap added. – With Michelle Zoleta, Ding Cervantes]

Based on the joint assessment conducted by the Philippines and the US authorities, about 2,345.67 square meters of corals were damaged by the grounded US minesweeper, lower than the initial estimate of 4,000 square meters.

Under Republic Act 10067, or the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009, the United States has to pay a fine of about P60 million (about $1.4 million).

"The amount as assessed by the Tubbataha Management Office is in accordance with the provisions of Republic Act 10067 which serves as the basis for the fine," Valte said.

The USS Guardian, which got stuck on the UNESCO World Heritage site since Jan. 17, was finally removed from the reef on March 30 after it was cut into pieces.

Loren: Diplomatic protest vs US over Tubbataha unnecessary By Manny Galvez (The Philippine Star) | Updated April 7, 2013 - 12:00am

CABANATUAN CITY, Philippines – The proposal to file a diplomatic protest against the US over the grounding of the USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef is unnecessary as Washington is taking appropriate steps to compensate for the damage.

Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said the situation does not call for the filing of a diplomatic protest as suggested by some quarters.

First of all, the Secretary of State (John Kerry) has already apologized and said they would pay. As long as they fulfill their commitment, there’s no problem,” she told The STAR. “The protest should be done if no action is taken.”

Anakpawis party-list and fisherfolk group Pamalakaya pressed the Department of Foreign Affairs to lodge a formal diplomatic protest against the US for the Tubbataha mishap, and Malacañang had said it is time to hold the US government accountable for the damage done now that the minesweeper had been removed from the atoll.

But the protesting groups said the joint team commissioned by Malacañang and the US government would not yield an objective investigation, so an independent party must carry out the probe.

Legarda said she is in favor of the proposal and believes that the independent party might come out with more credible findings, but she appeared perplexed over the extent of the damage.

“How can they (team) determine the damage? It’s unquantifiable. For example, the corals, it will take centuries to restore them,” she said.

Legarda expressed hope that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) would not remove Tubbataha Reef from the list of heritage sites because of the damaged caused by the US ship.

“I hope not. It’s not of our own doing and the US government is responsible,” Legarda said.

Asked if she thought the Tubbataha mishap would affect the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and US, Legarda said she would push for a review of the accord, focusing on what gains the VFA had given to the Philippines.

“I voted against it (VFA) but times have changed now. Definitely, we need America as an ally,” she stressed.

Damage payment as endowment fund

Meanwhile, environmentalists are optimistic that the payment for damage from the US would allow the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) to have a significant endowment fund to sustain its operations of the marine sanctuary. – With Rhohina Villanueva

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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