(2nd Lead) Aquino: US government committed to assist in rehab of Tubbataha Reef

February 5, 2013 11:19 pm 

By Lilybeth G. Ison

MANILA, Feb. 5 — President Benigno Aquino III Tuesday said the United States government has committed to assist in the rehabilitation of the Tubbataha Reef, including the posting of a Peace Corps volunteers to accelerate rehabilitation effort.

This was aside from paying the compensation for the damage caused by the grounding of minesweeper USS Guardian on the reef.

"There is a specific law governing Tubbataha. We met with the US Ambassador (Harry) Thomas… He said they are not just gonna compensate us in terms of paying the necessary fines, but they are also envisioning how to assist the rehabilitation of Tubbataha to include posting parang peace corps volunteers to the area to accelerate the rehabilitation of the reef," the President said in an interview at the sidelines of the Philippine Development Forum held in Davao City.

President Aquino said Transporation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio "Jun" Abaya will be presenting to him the details of the plan on how to salvage the ship.

"I haven’t seen the operations plan. Conceptual lang na… ika-cut up ‘yung ship kaysa ida-drag mo ‘yung ship through the reef; kaysa ilalapit mo ‘yung salvage ship to the reef also na baka pagbuhat ay sumama ‘yung salvage ship doon sa sina-salvage na ship (USS Guardian)," he said.

When asked if the Philippine government is open to applying other international conventions to seek a higher fine from the US government, the President said this is being studied by the relevant agencies, including the Department of Justice, Dept. of Foreign Affairs, and the Department of Transportation and Communications.

"This (looking at other international conventions) is being studied intensely by the council that governs Tubbataha, by our Secretary of Justice, by the Dept. of Foreign Affairs, and the Department of Transportation and Communications, which under whose auspices the Coast Guard exists," he said.

Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda earlier said the US government has promised to provide assistance for the restoration of the Tubbataha Reef.

"That’s not compensation, that’s assistance. We still have to determine the amount of fines that are going to be imposed based on a final assessment on the damage caused to the reef and that has not been done yet," he said.

"They’re (US) going to do that over and above the fines that we are going to impose based on the law that we have in place. And certainly we have seen their commitment to preserving the reef as part of their ongoing efforts, previous efforts, and certainly these are acknowledgments of the importance of the richness of the biodiversity that is found in Tubbataha Reef," he noted.

Lacierda said the Philippine government is just awaiting for the final assessment to determine the extent of the damage caused by the grounding of USS Guardian, which will happen only after the ship has been extricated from the reef. (PNA)

HBC/LGI

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