MANILA — “Wala nang natira in the area.”
This was how Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command described the coral bed in Rozul (Iroquious) Reef in the West Philippine Sea after he said that coral harvesting happened recently in the area.
Carlos said they suspected China to be behind this since they were the ones stationed in the reef before the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was able to drive them away some time in July.
After the Chinese maritime militia vessels left, AFP divers were sent to the reef and confirmed the harvesting.
According to Carlos, to their untrained eye, it seemed as if the harvesting happened recently.
Rozul is part of the country's exclusive economic zone.
“This is alarming because as far as WesCom is concerned, it is our duty to protect sovereign rights para sa mga Pilipino, sila dapat ang mag-enjoy sa resources sa EEZ,” Carlos said in a Quezon City forum.
It is also alarming because he said it might seem that the AFP is remiss in its duty in protecting the West Philippine Sea.
AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar added that coral harvesting is a threat to the food security not just of the Philippines but of the world.
Carlos said they are increasing their presence in the area and encouraging their allies to take action that will result in favorable condition on the ground.
Another issue is the swarming activity in the contested waters.
As of last night, 40 Chinese vessels were reported in the Rozul Reef.
WesCom said there were also 5 Chinese vessels in Escoda Shoal and 2 in Baragatan Bank as of early September.
The AFP was able to drive them away in July but they started swarming back in early August.
At any given day, Carlos said there are always 400 plus foreign vessels in the West Philippine Sea, 85 percent of which are Chinese.
Carlos explained they are addressing the problem by putting forces there. They are also studying joint patrols with other countries. So far, Japan, Australia, Malaysia, France, India, Canada, Singapore, and the United States have expressed interest.
There are also continuous efforts to file diplomatic protests against China, but as to filing another case in an international court, he said there was still no decision.