An international maritime expert fears the collapse of Philippine fisheries if China's wanton destruction of coral reefs in the West Philippine Sea remains unchecked.
Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said a Philippine miltary report of rampant coral harvesting in Rozul (Iroquious) Reef in the West Philippine Sea could have dire implications for the country's food security.
"Kaya ngayon mapapansin niyo yung mga available na fish na karamihan, maliliit na. Tapos marami nang isda na hindi niyo na nakikita o baka mahal na dahil rare na sila. 'Yun yung mga signs na 'yung fishery ay maaari nang mag collapse," he said.
Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command, earlier said he suspects China to be behind the destruction of the coral bed since Chinese vessels were stationed in the reef before the military was able to drive them away sometime in July.
For Batongbacal, he has no doubt it was China behind the reef destruction.
He noted Chinese vessels often destroy the coral reefs to extract the giant clams underneath. He said the Chinese use the clams as a substitute for ivory.
"China lang ang alam natin na gumagawa nito. 'Yung giant clams ginagawa nilang substitute sa ivory. 'Yung giant clams nasa ilalim 'yan ng mga bahura. Sila 'yung mga nagiging pundasyon ng mga reef kaya sinisira nila 'yung coral reef," he said.
The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas, meanwhile, urged the Marcos administration to conduct further damage assessment on corals in Rozul Reef.
Bobby Roldan, PAMALAKAYA Vice Chair for Luzon, warned it could take at least 20 years for a coral reef to recover, based on the study by the group AGHAM.
“There is a need to identify if the swarmed area was subjected to coral harvesting, clam hunting, or any military activities that destroyed its vast coral reefs. We urge the Marcos administration to take this matter urgently by tapping marine scientists and other experts to extensively assess the damage and its possible long-term implications to the local fishery production. Of course, this requires the government to allocate sufficient funding to the science and research sectors," he said in a statement.
For his part, Batongbacal urged government to consider sending Philippine Navy vessels to protect these coral reefs.
"Bakit hindi? Hindi dapat tayo matatakot na gamitin yun. Kung matatakot tayo, para saan mo pa binili 'yan," he said.