PH losing P1.3-t annually over destroyed coral reefs in West PH Sea, says scientists’ group

Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 21 2021 12:22 AM

PH losing P1.3-t annually over destroyed coral reefs in West PH Sea, says scientists’ group 1
The Philippines is losing P1.3 trillion due to China’s island-building and clam poaching activities in the West Philippine Sea, a group of scientists and advocates said.

Environment advocates cite China presence in those waters

MANILA—The Philippines is losing P1.3 trillion a year over coral reefs destroyed by China’s island-building and clam-poaching activities in the West Philippine Sea, according to a professional organization of scientists, science-advocates, and environment-advocates on Tuesday.

Jerwin Baure of the group AGHAM (Advocates of Science and Technology for the People) said China's aggression in the West Philippine Sea accounts for most of the documented reef destruction in the area totaling 62 square miles or about 16,000 hectares.

Baure said the amount was arrived at after multiplying the current estimate of coral reefs destroyed with the economic value of coral reefs, which is at $350,000/hectares a year.

HOW MUCH CAN BE CHINA FINED?

China could be fined at least P1.92 trillion, he said, if the amount is to be based on the compensation the United States paid the Philippines after causing damage to the Tubbataha Reef.

“Just imagine na lang kung gaano kalaki ito at makatulong ito lalo na ngayon ang bansa natin ay humaharap sa economic crisis dahil sa pandemiya,” he said in a webinar.

AGHAM stressed the importance of the West Philippine Sea in the country’s development, adding that its energy resource is key to national industrialization and should not be sold to foreign corporations. Baure emphasized caring for marine resources is important for food security and environmental integrity.

Maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal, meanwhile, reiterated that the Philippines has exclusive sovereign rights to natural resources, including oil deposits and marine resources in its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.

Beijing's sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea has been declared to have no legal basis by a UN-backed arbitration court.

“Basta nasa 200 nautical miles na iyan, Pilipinas lang po ang may sovereign rights sa natural resources na iyan,” Batongbacal said.

He said foreign countries must have prior agreement and consent from the Philippines if they are to get resources from the EEZ and conduct activities, such as marine scientific research and construction of artificial islands. 

Other countries may exercise freedom of navigation but should respect the Philippines’ sovereign rights to the natural resources, Batongbacal added.

“Kahit dumadaan siya diyan, hindi siya dapat mangisda, for example. Kahit naglalatag siya ng submarine cables and pipelines, hindi siya dapat nagde-destruct ng mga resources . . . na hindi in accordance with the rules, laws of the Philippines,” Batongbacal said.

The Philippines must enforce laws if vessels do not comply and demand the pullout of vessels, as well as initiate judicial proceedings for the violation of fisheries law, he stressed.

Manila has filed several protests against Beijing due to some 240 boats fishing illegally and gathering in the Philippine exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea. The Department of Foreign Affairs summoned the Chinese ambassador in Manila over Chinese vessels at Julian Felipe Reef, which is part of the West Philippine Sea. 

President Rodrigo Duterte has refused to press Beijing to comply with an arbitration ruling. Instead, he sought to build an alliance with China, having been promised billions of dollars of loans and investments, much of which have yet to materialize. 

Officials and the public have slammed Duterte for supposedly kowtowing to Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom Duterte has called his "most important friend."

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