TMO head, 2 experts to assess Tubbataha damage

The head of the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) on early Tuesday flew to Tubbataha with two experts on Philippine corals to begin ocular inspection of the area.

The damage on the Tubbataha Reef will be officially appraised on March 8. TMO head Angelique Songco flew to the site with Drs. Al Licuanan from the De La Salle University and Maricor Soriano, an assistant professor in the National Institute of Physics of the University of the Philippines.

Licuanan and Soriano will help determine the set of procedures to be followed to conduct timely post-assessment in order to define if a natural or an assisted regeneration is necessary for the damaged corals.

The TMO said the Protected Areas Management Board (PAMB) of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) has yet to hear from the U.S. Navy "or its government," with regard to the compensation for corals damaged by the decommissioned USS Guardian.

In a media conference called by the Task Force Tubbataha (TFT) late Monday, Songco said after sending the notice of violation some time ago, the PAMB of the marine protected area has not received any official reply from the U.S. Navy if it will recompense the Philippines and when.

“Well, the PAMB has not received or heard anything officially yet, up to this time. But we have read in the papers, and so in television that various agencies of the U.S. have committed to compensate the park,” Songco said.

She added the last direction she received from the Tubbataha PAMB was that the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of Republic Act 10067 will be carried out in collecting compensation for damages incurred by the minesweeper.

“Actually, my last instruction from the PAMB was that we are going to follow the law in doing this. But I’ve heard that there are negotiations that have gone on with the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs), and I think that is part of negotiations even early on in this case,” she said.

On the other hand, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) commandant Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena, who flew to Puerto Princesa for the purpose, said the U.S. Navy has said it will recompense but it needs to know the exact damages its minesweeper had caused on the coral isle, where it got stranded last January.

“Actually, that was the line U.S. Navy is following eventually. Of course, the U.S. Navy is willing to assist in whatever they can to rehabilitate the reefs. So we really do not know the whole package yet. But they mentioned that they are very willing to assist the TMO to rehabilitate,” Isorena said.

He added “everything will fall into place” after results have already been obtained from the post-assessment that will be conducted in Tubbataha.

“The TMO will head the post-assessment to determine how much had been damaged by the USS Guardian. From here, maybe the U.S. Navy can already gauge how much it will need to compensate,” Isorena told the PNA.

Meanwhile, Isorena also announced in the media conference that a team from the Philippines, which would include PCG-Palawan District Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista, will be flying to Sasebo, Japan on Wednesday for a meeting with the U.S. Navy, 7th Fleet.