Chinese poachers are illegally harvesting giant clams in the waters of Pag-asa Islands, recent patrols by the Philippine Coast Guard discovered.
The poachers immediately left the area when approached by the Coast Guard, the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea reported Wednesday.
“This act is a blatant violation of Philippine fisheries and wildlife laws, and the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES),” NTF-WPS said.
The Coast Guard also noted that the Chinese ships currently dispersed at the Pagkakaisa (Union) Banks and Pag-asa Islands are 240 CMM vessels about 60 meters in length each.
“A minimum estimate that each can catch one ton of fish amounts to a conservative total of 240,000 kilos of fish illegally taken from Philippine waters every single day that the massed Chinese fishing vessels remain in the West Philippine Sea. These acts fall under illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF),” the National Task Force said.
This comes about a week after a group of local environmentalists accused China of using the Philippines’ earth materials in reclamation and infrastructure projects in the disputed waterway, with over 200 Chinese ships currently sailing among the islands in the country’s exclusive economic zone.
In April 2019, a Palace official said China’s extraction of giant clams in the Scarborough Shoal was an “affront” to Philippine sovereignty.
“It is an affront to our territory and our sovereignty,” Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo – also the Palace spokesman two years ago -- told reporters then.
Filipino fishermen had told television news crews that Chinese Coast Guard ships drove them away from the shoal as wooden ships that bore China’s flag harvested giant clams.
“As far as we are concerned, that is ours so we will be objecting to those intrusions,” Panelo said.
Back then, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. also said the Philippines would take legal action against China over the clam harvest.
In a virtual media conference last week, Villardo Abueme, Homonhon Environmental Rescuers Organization (HERO) president, said China is using earth materials sourced from dredging and mining activities in different parts of the country are reportedly being used in the reclamation and infrastructure projects of China off the Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea.
Abueme cited the unabated dredging, extraction of sand and filling materials from as far as Cagayan to McArthur, Leyte in the Visayas that continue to destroy the country’s natural resources.
“It is very environmentally destructive, unsustainable and deprived local contractors from quality and affordable sand, gravel, aggregates and filling materials,” Abueme said.
“This is actually worse than invasion. Literally they are taking Philippine soil out of the country, leaving poor villages, mostly farm communities to pay for the environmental backlash brought by the unsustainable and very destructive extractive activity,” he added.
According to HERO, “pillagers of environment” are operating in the Davao region, Central Mindanao, Northern Luzon, and other areas in the Visayas.
Abueme urged Senator Risa Hontiveros to investigate and stop the destructive trade.
Camilo de Guzman, KALikha University of the Philippines-Diliman chairperson, asserted that “the West Philippine Sea is ours.”
“And no aggression from China can say otherwise. We are not for sale, and we will not watch silently while our fisher folks are being driven out of their fishing grounds further into poverty and hunger, especially during a pandemic,” he said.
“Worrying about our fishermen and national sovereignty are valid and pressing issues, but we also have to remember the long-term environmental damage that China is causing in our territories,” said Amber Quiban, KAlikha’s national campaign and advocacies officer.
“We cannot allow China to continuously build these islands over reefs because these will result in loss of habitat for a lot of marine wildlife and the loss of sources of food and livelihood for many Filipinos. These activities have a serious impact on our marine ecosystem. We are already facing a massive environmental crisis,” De Guzman said.
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