The Philippines is considering filing a new complaint against China before the United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration following reports of damage to the corals in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), supposedly by Chinese vessels that swamped the area.
“The OSG (Office of the Solicitor General) is in the midst of a full-blown study on our legal options regarding the West Philippine Sea, including the filing of a new complaint with the Permanent Court of Arbitration,” Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra said.
Guevarra did not specify the concerns that would be raised in a new complaint, saying state lawyers were still gathering relevant information from all available sources.
The Philippines first filed a complaint against China in 2013 for its massive claims in the South China Sea under its nine-dash line claim.
On July 12, 2016, the arbitral tribunal ruled overwhelmingly in favor of the Philippines, determining that major elements of China’s claim—including its nine-dash line, recent land reclamation activities, and other activities in Philippine waters—were unlawful.
China rejected the PCA ruling.
The Department of Justice (DOJ), meanwhile, said it will recommend the filing of cases against China for instances of extensive coral harvesting in the WPS.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said he would discuss the matter with Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin “as soon as possible.”
“We believe it can be done. We will pursue these cases against China because it’s no longer acceptable. We have a lot of evidence,” he said.
Remulla said even without a territorial dispute, “the destruction of the environment is a sin against humanity.”
Remulla noted that sufficient evidence has been gathered over the years to support the filing of a case against China.
“It’s a very ripe case for adjudication. I think we can go on and tap the best legal experts in the country to help us. We have access to the best environmental lawyers. We will pursue these cases against China because we have a lot of evidence,” Remulla said.
“This has been happening for many years but the documentation started a few years ago. The last few months we were able to get more documentation on this matter,” the DOJ chief added.
The Philippines, through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), has repeatedly and consistently raised concerns over ecologically harmful activities conducted by foreign entities in the West Philippine Sea.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command on Saturday said that there were cases of massive coral harvesting in the Rozul Reef.
AFP-Western Command Commander Vice Admiral Albert Carlos said the military sent out divers after Chinese military militia vessels left the swarmed area “to do an underwater survey.”
“And we saw that there were no more corals. The corals were damaged, and there was debris,” Carlos said.
On Monday, the Philippine Coast Guard confirmed “severe damage” to the marine environment and coral reef in the seabed not only at the Rozul Reef (Iroquois) but also at the Escoda (Sabina) Shoal.
BRP Sindangan and BRP Cabra patrolled the two locations after 33 Chinese maritime militia vessels were spotted at the Rozul Reef and 15 at the Escoda Shoal from Aug. 9 to Sept. 11.
“The surveys conducted in Escoda Shoal revealed visible discoloration of its seabed, strongly indicating that deliberate activities may have been undertaken to modify the natural topography of its underwater terrain,” PCG spokesperson Jay Tarriela said.
Tarriela said the corals were possibly harvested, processed, and returned to the seabed.
Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. on Tuesday said the reported destruction of coral at the Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal in the WPS was still being validated.
Senator Risa Hontiveros renewed her call for China to pay billions in environmental damages in the WPS as she filed a resolution for the Senate to investigate the matter.
“We should seek payment for damages caused by China in the WPS. We can get up to billions if we will oblige China to pay,” Hontiveros said.
“They had already stolen our fishermen’s jobs and still, they ravaged our natural resources,” she said.
The senator filed a resolution condemning the massive coral harvesting and urging the appropriate
Senate committee to conduct an inquiry into the matter.
Meanwhile, National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) spokesperson Jonathan Malaya said on Wednesday that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. ordered them to ‘’civilianize’’ the approach to the Ayungin Shoal.
Malaya was asked if the Philippines should respond through the Philippine Navy, considering the China Coast Guard and maritime militias that are blocking the area are under the Chinese military commission.
“That is a decision that has to be made by higher authorities because we want to keep the tension low in the WPS,” Malaya said in an interview with ANC.
“And there is an instruction from the President to civilianize the approach to Ayungin. So it’s going to be Coast Guard against Coast Guard, and the Navy is only in support,” he added.
The CCG and Chinese maritime militia vessels have been conducting dangerous maneuvers and using water cannons against Philippine ships during resupply missions to BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin.
The PCG earlier said it was ready to deploy more vessels to escort boats for resupply missions at Ayungin Shoal.
At least 43 diplomatic protests have been filed by the Philippines against China’s actions in the West Philippine Sea this year as of Sept.12, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
The Philippine vessels were escorting ‘’indigenous boats’’ to deliver food, water, fuel, and other supplies to troops stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal.
On Aug. 22, the PCG invoked international law and the country’s exclusive economic zone when it answered the radio challenges transmitted by its Chinese counterparts during the successful resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre.
In a TV interview, Senator Francis Tolentino cited the need to beef up the budget for the security forces in the WPS and equip Filipino fishermen in the vicinity.
“I think it would be better to equip our fisherfolk likewise, give them the necessary tools to really fish in the area but protect them as well,” he added.