Escudero vows for more funds protecting Tubbataha, other ‘green gems’

April 11, 2013 11:33 pm 

MANILA, April 11 – Sen. Francis Escudero has vowed to put in more funds for the protection and preservation of environmental treasures in the country like Tubbataha Reef.

“The protection of the country’s environmental treasures should be a national concern. Government funding should be allocated towards this end. I would also like to see agencies like the Coast Guard and the Philippine Navy commit to the protection and preservation efforts,” Escudero said on Thursday.

A Chinese fishing vessel ran aground on Tubbataha Reef, a day after the US Navy completed the salvaging of its minesweeper USS Guardian that was stuck for months on the reef.

Escudero, chairman of the Senate committee on the environment and natural resources, said the continued violation of a ban on the presence of vessels in the natural sanctuary had resulted in the progressive degradation of the Tubbataha Reef, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) World Heritage Site.

“The cases of the USS Guardian and the Chinese fishing vessel should be a wake-up call for the government to set its priorities in the direction of protecting our natural treasures,” he added.

Escudero said government funding should be increased for the Tubbataha Management Office, the chief agency tasked to oversee the area, to improve its monitoring capabilities.

TMO superintendent Angelique Songco cited lack of funding for the inability of the agency to monitor the Tubbataha Reef area continuously throughout the day.

Songco said the Chinese fishing vessel entered the reef area when the TMO radar was switched off.

The agency’s budget allows it only periodic use of its radar, which is switched on every three hours.

At the same time, Escudero called on the US government’s active involvement in the restoration work on Tubbataha Reef.

“Compensation for the damage to the reef is specifically provided under the law, but the law also expressly requires those who caused the damage to see to it that the resource is restored to its former state,” Escudero said.

He also said the US government should shed light on the true intention of USS Guardian in sailing to that part of the country's waters despite knowledge that the area was off limits to sea vessels.

“We have received reports that it was the third time that USS Guardian was seen near where it ran aground. The Department of Foreign Affairs and the Armed Forces of the Philippines should pursue their investigation on the circumstances that led to the grounding of the ship on the reef,” the re-electionist senator said.

“It is hard to believe that the Navy ship, with its modern capability, lost its way towards the Tubattaha Reef area as what ship officers have claimed,” he added.

Even if the claim that the radar of the ship was not functioning were true, it would be hard to imagine that the vessel lacked the redundancy for such situation, Escudero noted.

He said President Benigno Aquino III was right in seeking compensation from the US government for the reef damage, but the US government should be required to assist the country to restore the damage in the reef, he added.

The US government said it would pay $ 1.4 million for the damage caused to Tubbataha Reef. (PNA)

HBC/JFM

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