MANILA—Former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and former senatorial candidate Chel Diokno urged Filipinos to speak out against the government’s inaction over illegal activities in the West Philippine Sea, as foreign incursions continue to damage corals and fish stock in the area.
“All of our corals have been destroyed. Other living organisms that inhabited these areas will be affected,” Carpio-Morales said in an ambush interview after a forum in UP BGC.
“Given the destruction of our coral reefs, certainly our supply of fish will be diminished. And that would impact on the livelihood of our fishermen and eventually our Filipino people,” she said. “Why should we buy galunggong from China when we ourselves can fish in our own waters?”
Carpio-Morales is one of the speakers at a forum that marked the Philippines' victory 3 years ago, when the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague upheld Manila’s sovereign rights to its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The ruling also rejected Beijing’s historic claim to resources in the South China Sea using its 9-dash line doctrine.
Diokno, dean of the De La Salle University College of Law, also pointed out that there is already a legal framework — through the Constitution and several local laws — to assert the country’s rights over the West Philippine Sea.
“The government has an obligation to protect our fishermen and our marine resources,” he said in Filipino. “The problem is that government officials seemed to have forgotten about these laws or they don’t want to pay attention to their obligations.”
Carpio-Morales and Diokno said Filipinos should be more vocal about their opinions on the West Philippine Sea.
“Perhaps we should make our voices be heard more. And hopefully the government listens to the sentiment of the people,” Diokno said.
At the same forum, the Social Weather Stations released the results of its latest survey saying that nearly 9 out of 10 Filipinos believe that the government should assert its rights over islands in the West Philippine Sea. About the same number said Chinese fishermen conducting illegal activities in the area should be arrested and prosecuted.
Recently, President Rodrigo Duterte said China can freely fish in West Philippine Sea.
Carpio-Morales said Duterte’s repeated remarks might make Filipinos believe that such is legal.
Also part of the panel discussion was Dr. Deo Florence Onda, chief scientist of Protect West Philippine Sea and Chiara Zambrano, correspondent of ABS-CBN.
Onda talked about how corals in the West Philippine Sea have continued to be destroyed by human activities.
He pointed out that the Spratly group of islands has one of the longest chains of coral reefs in the world.
Onda said it is a pity that so many reefs have been destroyed, especially since the seas are important sources of resources and even medicine.
“Maybe the next cure to cancer can be found in the reefs in the West Philippine Sea,” he said.
Onda explained that the reefs in the West Philippine Sea play an important role in propagating corals and fish in the western part of the country.
“Protecting our seas and oceans is tantamount to protecting the future,” he said.
But because they are being decimated, there are now studies saying that coral reefs are migrating away from the equator, Onda said.
ABS-CBN correspondent Chiara Zambrano also showed videos of Chinese fishermen poaching endangered giant clams.
"What the role of the journalist in this case is to bear witness," Zambrano said as she lamented the continued degradation of reefs and aquatic resources in the area.