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MANILA, Philippines -- President Benigno Aquino III has accepted the United States’ apology for the grounding of a minesweeper on Tubbataha Reef but stressed that this did not exempt the Americans from any penalties for breaking Philippine laws.
“I think they are showing that they respect us as a sovereign state, and we’d like to thank them that they are respecting our sovereignty and are very careful about our sensitivities,” Aquino told Filipino reporters at a meeting in Davos, Switzerland where he attended the World Economic Forum.
“But that doesn’t exempt them from having to comply with our laws … Pero wala naman ‘yung apology, napapag-isip tayo … na, ‘Excuse me, may nasira sa amin eh. Ganoon na lang ba ‘yon (But an apology is nothing, it made us think, ‘Excuse me, we suffered damage. Is that all there is to it)?” he said.
Nevertheless, Aquino acknowledged the need to address the issue step by step and said the priority at the moment is to remove the USS Guardian, which has been stuck on the reef, a world heritage site, since January 17.
“Our first priority is remove the ship,” Aquino said. “When we say remove the ship, the draft, as I understand, of the ship is something like 12 feet. The portion when they first ran aground has a high-tide level of 1.1 meters, roughly about three feet, so there are some nine feet of draft that the waters have not … accommodated for the buoyancy of the ship.”
“So until the ship is stuck there, there is a wave action, there is wind action, the damage will continue, so our interest has to be to remove the ship first,” he added.
Once the ship is removed, which the US Navy said it intends to do by lifting the minesweeper, the penalties to be imposed will be determined.
Aquino said the body investigating the incident should determine the following: “How did they actually get into a protected area? How did the navigation systems that are supposed to be some of the most sophisticated failed?”
The US Navy, which said the Guardian was sailing from Subic Bay to Indonesia to participate in a military exercise, has attributed the incident to faulty navigation date.
Aquino also pointed out that foreign vessels need diplomatic clearance to pass through Philippine waters.
“This is (an) internationally recognized zone, they violated it, there are penalties … but we should take it step by step” he said.