Higher fines pushed for damage to Tubbataha

Senatorial candidates Ernesto Maceda and Loren Legarda said Wednesday that they wanted higher fines for damages caused to Tubbataha Reef so that it could serve as a deterrent to all ships.

A US Navy minesweeper was grounded on the Unesco World Heritage site in the Sulu Sea damaging more than 2,000 square meters of corals before it was cut into pieces and removed.

The Philippines is asking for $600 or P24,000 per square meter of damaged reef in accordance with Republic Act 10067 or the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009, for a total of $1.4 million or P60 million.

“[We should] increase the fines for the Tubbataha [to] P1 billion,” Maceda said during the first Philippine Daily Inquirer Senate Forum in the University of the Philippine Film Center Wednesday.

“That [way] it can become a deterrent factor [and other ships] will really be careful,” he said. On Monday night, a Chinese fishing vessel was grounded in another part of the reef. The crew was detained while the ship has yet to be removed.

Legarda, who is running for reelection, said she was also in favor of imposing higher fines for violators. “The calculation [for the fines] on Tubbataha may be correct but it is not enough to make up for the damage caused on the reef,” Legarda said.

She also said that the perception that a grounded ship on a Unesco world heritage site was far from the gut, was not true. It affects food security because the reefs are home to fishes, Legarda said. The loss of fishes homes will mean less catch for fishermen and will end up less food, she added.

“If we will allow a slap on the wrist only, ships will be grounded again and again,” Legarda said. The Chinese vessel is suspected of illegal fishing and poaching since it was found out that they did not have a permit to enter Philippine waters.