‘Sue US over reef loss’

THE United States should be held liable for violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea over the destruction of the Tubbataha Reef, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago said on Friday.

“If I were a lawyer for the [Philippine government], I would argue that the US government should be held responsible under Article 31 of the UNCLOS on state responsibility,” Defensor said.

“It is the responsibility of every state to preserve the international environment.”

Defensor cited the principle that the violator pays. She said this principle provides that whoever violates the rules of environmental law should pay for the damage.

“That the so called person part of what we call general international law,” Santiago said.

The US is not a party to the UNCLOS, but Santiago said there were cases in which it could be bound to a treaty.

“That is when the practice has turned into a principle of international law because it is considered  jus cogens, meaning a pre-emptory rule of international law. International law provides you must pay for damage to the environment,” said Santiago, an expert in international law.

“Whether it was done accidentally or not, it’s now jus codens. So the the US government cannot use the excuse that it is not a party to the UNCLOS,” Santiago said.

She said that was an ugly position for the United States who was pretending it is a champion or advocate of international environmental law.

She said the US government should voluntarily offer to pay about P8 million to repair the Tubattaha Reef.

But Santiago supported Supreme Court’s decision saying the petitioners must first file the proper action in court before asking the US government to pay the Philippines.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has said it will continue to pursue compensation for the damage on Tubbataha Reef caused by a US Navy ship.

In a statement, the department said it will continue its ongoing discussions with the US government on the matter of securing full compensation for the damage.

More than 2,300 square meters of coral reef on the Tubbataha Reef National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site, were damaged when the USS Guardian ran aground in the area in January 2013.

The US cut the ship into pieces so it could be removed from the reef without causing further damage.

US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg said recently that they were set to make an announcement regarding the compensation “very soon.”


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