THE PHILIPPINE coast guard has confirmed the severe damage wrought by the Chinese maritime militia (CMM) upon the marine environment of some features in the West Philippine Sea.
The seabed and coral reef of Rozul Reef (also known as Iroquois Reef) and Escoda Shoal have been found to be lifeless.
Illegal and destructive fishing activities may have directly caused the degradation and destruction of the maritime environment in the WPS features.
The Philippines have finally found the wherewithal to drive Chinese vessels away from the area and conduct spot inspections to document traces of coral damage and discoloration of the seabed.
But is it a case of too little too late?
PCG spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said “the destruction which may have possibly been caused by Chinese maritime militia vessels is not only an ecological disaster but also threatens the livelihoods of our fishermen and the fragile ecosystems that depend on a healthy maritime environment.”
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri supports the PCG and the Philippine Navy in counteracting the dangerous maneuvers directed at Philippine missions resupplying troops stationed at a decrepit ship upon which lies the trigger to the RP-US mutual defense treaty.
This support was clearly articulated in the same Senate hearing last week where Sen. Robinhood Padilla perorated against the “escalation” of tensions in the area with the presence of a US Navy aircraft over the Ayungin Shoal.
It did not matter to Padilla that the US aircraft was a veritable “eye in the sky” that was merely watching while the PCG and the Philippine Navy was conducting the resupply mission. To him, it would appear that the US is wagging its dog – the Philippines.
Was it the Philippines that escalated the friction in the West Philippine Sea?
The Spratly islands, for example, are more than 400 nautical miles from mainland China.
Under current international law (UNCLOS), a coastal state has the right to explore and exploit, and the responsibility to conserve and manage, both living and non-living resources, within its exclusive economic zone of only 200 nautical miles from shore.
China justifies its capture of islets, cays and shoals, way beyond its EEZ by alluding to the “nine-dash-line” – a concoction and called out as such by an international arbitral body.
On the other hand, the West Philippine Sea refers to the waters included in the Philippines’ EEZ. This claim is supported by the UNCLOS and the decision of an international arbitral tribunal.
The PCG has the duty to safeguard marine environment and resources within the Philippine EEZ.
In the face of the Chinese juggernaut, however, the Philippines needs to rally support from its allies in the region.
In mid-2019, several fishermen sought the issuance of a writ of continuing mandamus aimed at government agencies tasked with the protection of marine resources within the Philippine EEZ.
The Supreme Court dismissed the petition because many of the fishermen withdrew their signatures.
Now, court intervention does not appear necessary.
How things can change depending on who is heading the executive department./PN