The completed foundation of new rangers’ station in Tubbataha Reefs and Natural Park under Phase I. (Photo by Rowell Alarcon | Tubbataha Management Office)

The Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) has asked the Bureau of Treasury (BTr) to fast-track the release of the certification for its P58 million share from the damage compensation of the United States in 2015 to start the new ranger station’s phase II construction.

Angelique Songco, Tubbataha Reefs Protected Area superintendent, said Friday, that phase II will be important because it will cover the central station which will house the eight to ten park rangers stationed in the Tubbataha Reefs and Natural Park.

The phase I construction was completed in September 2020 and the management has to repaint the rebars to keep them from rusting while waiting for the fund to support the phase II construction.

The fund will come from the portion of the P87 million payment of the United States to the Philippine Government as compensation for the damage caused by a US Navy ship USS Guardian who ran aground the north atoll of the Tubbataha Reef in 2013.

“We are wanting to withdraw that P58 million para magamit doon sa phase II, ‘yon talaga ang inaasahan natin. Nagbayad sila two years later in 2015 but it’s with the national government, naghihintay tayo ngayon, mahaba pa ‘yong proseso but we are waiting for the Bureau of Treasury to issue a certification so the Department of Budget can now say na may pera ‘yan i-release na,” she added.

The certification that will be issued by the DTr will give a green light for the Department of Budget to release the portion of the park from the compensation.

The TMO has been doing a series of communication and follow up since 2015.
As per the recent update given to TMO the certification is now in line for signing, said couple of weeks ago. However, no progress followed, she added.

“Noong 2015 nag-communicate na rin kami, nagkausap na kami. More recently like two years ago, ang DENR ay nagsulat na rin sa Bureau of Treasury. Tumutulong sa atin na i-release niyo na ang pera para matapos na ang station pero maraming mga hinihinging papeles which we have now been able to submit to them and hindi pa napipirmahan ang certification,” she said.

“We are so unaware of this but we are learning sa proseso sa government to release the fund is quite long. Malapit na bumagsak ‘yong luma natin station, hindi pa natin nagagawa itong bago. All we need is a place where our people who are taking care of Tubbataha for us will be safe,” she added.

The current shelter of park rangers watching over the park. (Photo by Thea Valenzuela | Tubbataha Management Office)

The current shelter of rangers was constructed in 2000 by the Philippine Navy.

The total budget of the new ranger station has P200 million cost, wherein phase I has an amount of around P60 million from the combined funds of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Phase I covered the construction of the foundation and will be followed by the construction of the rangers’ shelter in phase II. The construction of research station and helipad will be pursued in phase III.

The construction is aligned with the design of WWF-Philippines consultant Dylan James Melgazo and Emerging Architects Studio, which envisions interconnect the command center that will house the rangers, a research building, and a helipad.

Once completed, the new ranger station will increase the capacity of the rangers to protect the World Heritage Site in the the Sulu Sea against threats. According to World Wide Fund (WWF), there are over 360 hard coral and 600 fish species inhabit the park.

A file photo of USA Guardian minesweeper ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef in January 2013.

Songco is uncertain on how long can the foundation built survive if the release of the budget for the phase II will be prolonged. The management has observed the increasing frequency and intensity of passing storm in the park.

“It is really important to get it done as soon as we can kasi hindi natin alam. Grabe na ‘yong tindi ng mga bagyong dumadaan. Dati hindi dumadaan sa Sulu Sea ang mga bagyo, ngayon doon na namumuo– It is really hard to tell, I don’t think we should wait na mangyari na seryoso– ngayon na siya dapat (ang phase II construction),” she stressed.

If the money will be withdrawn and the weather condition aligned with the construction plan, the completion of the phase II may happen in 2023.
“So many things need to align for you to be able to do these things. Wishful thinking ‘yong 2023,” she added.

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is one of the senior reporters of Palawan News. She covers agriculture, business, and different feature stories. Her interests are collecting empty bottles, aesthetic earrings, and anything that is color yellow.