A Philippine Navy vessel is seen in Tubbataha Reef to search for missing professional diver Bryan Nazareno. (File photo courtesy of Naval Forces West/WESCOM)

The Western Command (WESCOM) has recommended the temporary closure of an area in the Tubbataha Reefs where a diver went missing early this month.

In Monday’s regular briefing with the media, WESCOM commander Vice Admiral Rene Medina said that they will ask the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) to conduct the investigation to find out why Nazareno went missing in the area known as Amos Rock.

“It is really our desire to know what really happened and one of our recommendations is for the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) to conduct an investigation. What are their processes and protocols in the conduct of diving in the area? This is not only to determine what happened, but also for the next diving ay malaman itong mga safety procedures,” Medina said.

He said that based on the initial information they gathered from the divers, they were baffled when Nazareno went missing while preparing to ascend from Amos Rock with his group.

Medina said that pending the result of the proposed probe, Tubbataha Reef “should be closed temporarily”.

“Based on initial info we gathered from the divers ay pa-ascend na sila tapos nawala kaya titingnan talaga namin. So, while we are waiting for the result of the investigation, we will recommend na ipa-close muna ‘yong area for diving,” he stated.

“Tubbataha will do the investigation”, he pointed out, and the timeline to end the probe depends on the TMO.

Marine park site manager Angelique Songco, on the other hand, said on Tuesday that the WESCOM is part of the Tubbataha Management Board (TMB) and can recommend the probe to be conducted.

“WESCOM is a member of the management board, he (Medina) can recommend it. The board can decide because he is a member of it. There’s a meeting and we will discuss this,” Songco said.

Nine days since Nazareno went missing on the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the search and rescue (SAR) operations have not come out with any result yet.

Medina said as of June 10, the WESCOM’s Joint Task Force Integrated Crisis Action Response to Emergencies (ICARE) being supervised by the Tactical Operations Wing West (TOW West) has downgraded the operation to find Nazareno to search and retrieval.

“Assets are being recalled for reprovisioning and other maintenance purposes,” he said.

He said that they have started recalling surface assets, but the aerial search will remain.

“Magpapadala na lang tayo ng eroplano. Kung merong makikita ang air assets natin, that’s the time we will send our ships back. Titignan namin kung maganda ang panahon, we will try to have aerial search everyday kung kinakailangan,” he said.

Col. Gerry Soliven, deputy commander of TOW West and ICARE joint task force, said recent efforts to find the missing diver had been futile.

He said ICARE has already “exerted all efforts” — 11 sorties of SAR covering 165 hectares of sea and land territories — to find the missing diver with civilian group volunteers.

“Walang result [ang search and rescue], negative considering the environment in the area. Nandoon pa rin ang hope na buhay pa siya kasi even mga kasama niyang diver described him as skilled talaga. So, ayaw pa namin i-declare na talagang wala na o hindi na siya makita. Hopefully, kung buhay siya mas maganda pero it depends on the situation nga since June 3 hindi na siya makita. Probably, magkakaroon ng investigation ito kung bakit siya biglang nawala,” he said.

He said that the Coast Guard District Palawan (CGDP) will already be in charge of continuing the search and retrieval operation.