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MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATE, 1:30 p.m.) The United States Navy minesweeper USS Guardian damaged 1,000 square meters of the Tubbataha Reef, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said on Wednesday.
"It's a damage to a Unesco World Heritage Site. It is a damage to our natural resources. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of this reef," Lacierda said in an interview aired over state-run Radyo ng Bayan.
"We are very concerned with the situation in the reef," Lacierda added.
Task force to salvage USS Guardian
Relatedly, the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) created a task force that will coordinate with the United States Navy concerning salvage efforts on the grounded US warship at Tubbataha Reef.
Based on the report of the task force headed by Transportation Undersecretary Eduardo Oban, the minesweeper's propeller and rudder were also "severely damaged."
Commander Armand Balilio, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman, said the task force is composed of the local Coast Guard in Palawan, the Philippine Navy, the Tubbataha management office, and local government officials.
The task force will coordinate closely with the US Navy on salvage operations and minimizing environmental impact.
US Navy accountable
Lacierda also assured the public that the Aquino administration will hold the US Navy accountable for the grounding of the ship and the damage caused to the reef.
"We have the law and we will enforce the law...We are determined to press charges," the Palace spokesman said.
Kabataan party-list Representative Raymond Palatino earlier said under Republic Act 10067 or the Tubbataha Reefs National Park Act of 2009, the US Navy may be fined P12,000 per square meter of damaged corals.
Earlier, Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya said the Philippines also expects the US to sanction the captain of the USS Guardian.
"Once you ground your vessel, even touch bottom - not necessarily causing damage - just the fact that you allow it to touch ground is a mortal sin and could spell the difference from a promising career and a termination of a career. I could expect they'll come hard on their commanding officer," Abaya said.
"As a responsible nation and state and a strong ally of the Philippines, I assume it goes without saying (that the US will pay for damages and the cost to salvage the ship)... The law doesn’t distinguish whether this was negligence or inadvertence or intentional. What is clear in the law is that we could claim for damages—not really looking into as to the intent on how it happened," Abaya added.