A final agreement on the extent of the damage caused by the grounding of the USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef has not yet been reached, an official of the US Navy Pacific Fleet told The Manila Times on Wednesday in reaction to reports that the United States refused to pay cash for the damages.
This was contrary to the recent pronouncements of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), which said the United States government gave its commitment to pay the damages in cash and not by providing an aircraft used during the war in Afghanistan as earlier reported by The Times.
In an e-mail to The Times, Lt. Anthony Falvo, spokesperson of the US Pacific Fleet in Hawaii, said that Manila and Washington haven’t reached a final agreement on the extent of the damages on the reef.
The amount of compensation will be determined only after the final agreement has been sealed.
“Once an agreement is reached, an appropriate award will generally be limited to reasonable compensation for the damage or loss only and does not extend to payment of punitive damages, interest, costs, attorneys’ fees, or any other such charges, regardless of whether they are allowed by local laws, standards, or customs,” he said in the e-mail.
A joint US-Philippines reef damage survey was recently conducted. The results of the survey will determine the amount of damages done to the reef, considered a World Heritage Site, by the grounding of the USS Guardian on January 17.
The survey team was made up of marine biologists who used “multiple techniques and methods to fully map the affected reef area.”
Before proper compensation is provided, Falvo also said that the Philippine government has to first file a damage claim under the Foreign Claims
Act (FCA) “where the United States will work to promptly resolve that claim.”
“[But] we have not yet received the claim,” Falvo said.
The Foreign Claims Act is a United States law that was enacted in 1942 to provide compensation for inhabitants of foreign countries for personal injury, death or property damage because of noncombatant activities by US military personnel overseas.
According to Falvo, the FCA “authorizes the filing, investigation, processing and settling of foreign claims. The purpose of the act is to promote and maintain friendly relations through the prompt settlement of meritorious claims in foreign countries.”
The claim must be made by the Philippine government within two years of the incident, the US Navy official said. A claim must comprise of: (1) state the time, date, place and nature of the incident; (2) state the nature and extent of any injury, loss, or damage; and (3) request compensation in a definite amount, in the local currency.
After the claim is submitted to the US government, it will then be forwarded to the Claims and Tort Litigation (Code 15) of the US Navy Judge Advocate General.
Code 15 has action lead adjudicating the FCA claim on behalf of the Secretary of the Navy, Falvo said.
Not willing to pay cash
On Monday, The Times published an article on the apparent refusal of the US Navy to pay in cash the damages they caused to the reef. The source of the report was present at the meeting that took place between officials of the US Navy and the Philippine government.
Falvo, however, said he is not aware of any meeting between the two sides. He added that the US government will work with the Philippines “to determine appropriate monetary compensation under the Foreign Claims Act.”
He also denied reports that the crew of the USS Guardian was on the reef to scuba dive.
“While it is important to stress that the US Navy continues its comprehensive investigation into the grounding, I can unequivocally state that the ex-Guardian was not in the area to scuba dive on or near the reef. Guardian was bound for Indonesia and conducting a normal transit of the Sulu Sea when the grounding occurred,” Flavo told The Times.
The USS Guardian had to be broken into parts before it was finally removed from the reef earlier this month. The two-month grounding has damaged about 2,300 square meters of the reef, which marine experts say will take decades to recover.
Raul Hernandez, Foreign Affairs spokesman, said during a press briefing on Monday that the US government had given its commitment to pay in cash.
He also said Washington will provide a “service program” for the protection of the reef and the marine environment.
The US Navy already spent P1 billion to remove the USS Guardian from the reef, but the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009 requires them to pay about P12,000 per square meter of damaged reef and another P12,000 per square meter for the rehabilitation.
That will amount to about P58 million or roughly $1.4 million.