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Sunday, December 3, 2023

China denies coral damage; DOJ, SolGen to talk WPS case

China on Friday denied it was involved in the destruction of coral reefs in parts of the West Philippine Sea, saying the accusations have no factual basis.

“We urge relevant parties of the Philippines to stop creating a political drama from fiction,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Instead, China urged the Philippines to remove the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal “if it is really concerned about the environment.”

“If the Philippines truly cares about the ecological environment of the South China Sea, it should tow away the illegally “grounded” warship at Ren’ai Jiao as soon as possible, stop it from discharging polluted water into the ocean, and not let the rusting warship bring irrevocable harm to the ocean,” the statement said.

However, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said he and lawyers from the Department of Justice will meet with the Office of the Solicitor General to discuss the strategy and legal options the government can take against China for the destruction of coral reefs in the waterway

Remulla said he is also seeking the help of one of the foremost environmental law experts in Asia, lawyer Antonio Oposa Jr., “to help us with the task of forming a complaint when it comes to this destruction of the environment.”

The DOJ views the filing of the case as “a responsibility to the world to take a hand in matters wherein environmental destruction is being done,” the secretary said.

The Philippines has “a moral responsibility to pursue the destruction of the environment as a task for the good of humanity,” Remulla added.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has suspected China of harvesting corals in Rozul Reef, before dumping the “processed” coral reefs in some parts of the West Philippine Sea.

Last month, China demanded the Philippines remove BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal, claiming that it had obtained a promise that it would be towed away.

However, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. denied that the Philippines made such a promise to China and said if there were such an agreement he would rescind it immediately.

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea — through which trillions of dollars in trade pass annually – despite an international court ruling that Beijing’s entitlement has no legal basis.

Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Brunei also have overlapping claims in parts of the sea, while the United States sends naval vessels through it to assert freedom of navigation in international waters. Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian on Thursday night said the Philippines should engage in talks with Beijing by honoring a consensus between President Marcos and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Huang also said maritime issues can be managed peacefully.

“Our relations should not be defined by the South China Sea issue, the disputes of which must be properly managed through friendly and peaceful consultations,” he said.

Huang also praised Vice President Sarah Duterte, who gave a video greeting in Mandarin Chinese.

This is the second time she gave a video message in Mandarin Chinese for the same event. Huang praised Duterte for speaking “very good Chinese.”

Meanwhile, Senator Francis Tolentino said the Senate is ready to augment the budget of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) if it can study the destruction of coral reefs in the West Philippine Sea.

Senator Risa Hontiveros has been demanding that China pay billions of pesos in damages for destroying corals in Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal. Tolentino said his major concern is how to revive the corals which are crucial to the breeding of fish and other marine life.

If the DOST can do these tasks, Tolentino said they are very much prepared to give the agency additional funding. DOST Secretary Renato Solidum Jr. said they already have existing studies on coral reforestation. But Solidum also corrected Tolentino by saying corals cannot weaken water currents and tsunamis because they are submerged in water.

It is the mangroves that can weaken water current, he said. He said corals can help against tsunamis if they are as big as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

In a separate development, the guided-missile frigate BRP Jose Rizal completed a bilateral sail in the West Philippine Sea with the Canadian Halifax-class frigate HMCS Ottawa.

“The joint sail is part of the Philippine Navy’s regular engagements with its partners in the Philippines’ maritime zones,” LTC Enrico Gil Ileto, the chief of the Public Affairs Office of the Armed Forces of the Philippines said. Earlier on Sept. 4, the BRP Jose Rizal also joined up with the US Navy Vessel USS Ralph Johnson for a division tactics mission.

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