By Gerry Albert Corpuz and John Lloyd Hoffman
MANILA, Philippines- Exercising what they called sovereign rights as Filipino, activist fisherfolk belonging to Pamalakaya or the National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organizations in the Philippines wrote a protest letter to US Presidentin connection with the recent environmental tragedy in Manila.
In a strongly worded and passionately written note to Obama, Pamalakaya indicted the US goverment concerning an incident that involved a US navy marine sweeper and which led to the destruction of Tubbataha Reef in Southern Philippines.
" We would like to inform you that the Filipino fisherfolk under the banner of Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) or the National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organizations in the Philippines humbly submit this letter of protest against the US government in connection with the environmental tragedy that took place at Tubbataha Reef National Park in Western Philippines," the Pamalakaya letter said signed by its vice chairperson Salvador France.
France said: "Mr. President the environemntal crisis in Tubbataha has involved the USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper vessel that ran aground the UNESCO declared heritage last week.
Mr. President, the US government is highly accountable on the incident that goes beyond the issue of environmental disaster in Tubbataha Reef. In fact, the incident displayed serious manifestations of Washington D.C’s wholesale and flagrant violations of the Philippine sovereignty and the collective sovereign rights of the nearly 100 million Filipinos."
France told Obama that what is more lamentable is the extreme political arrogance displayed by US military officials under the Asia Pacific Command. They refused to hear and heed to the collective sentiment of the Filipino people.
France argued that news reports revealed that US authorities even prevented Philippine authorities from inspecting the USS Guardian, as if Tubbataha Reef and the entire archipelgo belongs to the terrirtory of America outside mainland USA and we have no right to determine what is going on inside the Philippine territory.
"Mr. President, you are constitutionally, politically and morally bound to accept this diplomatic protest as we invoke and exercise our collective sovereign rights as Filipinos." the Pamalakaya official said. The protest letter also took a swipe against Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, whom the group described as more of back up staff of the White House than a public servant based in Malacanang Palace.
"To tell you frankly Mr. President, we do not expect the present administration of Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to pursue the case against those who violated our sovereign rights as a nation since he is more of a paid backstaff of the White House rather than a Malacanang Palace based public servant in the country," said Pamalakaya.
Pamalakaya said whether the US government denies it or not, the 224 foot US Navy minesweeper had illegally entered the protected seascape and Natural Park. It said even the one-sided and anti-Filipino people Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) does not even allow US forces and warships to enter the site because it is a protected reef park and should be spared from conduct of any American military campaign.
According to Pamalakaya, the damage caused by USS Guardian is far more reaching, irreparable and strategically fatal especially to Filipino fisherfolk. Imagine the huge and lifetime negative impact this incident would bring to marine environment and to hundreds of thousands of small fishermen in affected areas namely the Sulu Sea, the waters of Panay Island and Visayan Sea and the waters of Region IV-A that is comprised by the island provinces of Palawan, Mindoro and Romblon.
On top of the diplomatic protest emailed through the official White House website, Pamalakaya issued the following demands for Obama to reply.
1. The abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the time warped Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippine government. The US government has been violating the sovereign rights of the Filipino people through these military agreements with the Manila government.
2. The immediate pullout of all US warships, aircrafts and troops currently stationed in the Philippines on rotation basis to make sure incident like what happened in Tubbataha won’t have a repeat in the near and strategic future.
3. The immediate payment of damage compensation to be determined by an independent group of experts. The US government should pay the necessary and appropriately determined amount in local or dollar currency for the rehabilitation of Tubbataha Reef Natural Park.