MANILA (UPDATE) — The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Monday released two videos showing the devastating impact on the marine environment and coral reef in the seabed of Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal.
The videos confirm the earlier reports of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and its Western Command.
Extensive underwater surveys conducted by the PCG revealed alarming findings, indicating a significant loss of marine life and deliberate activities that may have caused irreparable damage.
"The results of these surveys showed that the marine ecosystem in the subject West Philippine Sea features appeared lifeless, with minimal to no signs of life," the Coast Guard statement read.
"[Surveys in] Escoda Shoal revealed visible discoloration of its seabed, strongly indicating that deliberate activities may have been undertaken to modify the natural topography of its underwater terrain," Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG-West Philippine Sea spokesperson, said in a statement.
Crushed corals found indicate a potential act of dumping, possibly involving the same dead corals that were previously processed and cleaned before being returned to the seabed, the Coast Guard also said.
The Coast Guard conducted the surveys at Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal between August and early September, when it monitored at least 40 vessels of the Chinese Maritime Militia at those features.
The agency also stressed that the continued swarming of CMM vessels for indiscriminate, illegal and destructive fishing activities "may have directly caused the degradation and destruction" of the West Philippine Sea features.
AFP WESCOM: DAMAGE TO IMPACT FISHERS
Speaking on TeleRadyo Serbisyo on Monday, Commander Ariel Joseph Coloma, spokesperson of the military Western Command, said that the decimation of the seabed around Rozul Reef would impact local coastal communities.
"Malaki ang epekto nito sa kabuhayan ng mga mangingisda," he said.
"Ang mahirap d'yan, yung mga nasirang coral reef at yung mga namatay na marine life natin ay iindahin natin hindi lang sa henerasyon natin, baka sa susunod pa na henerasyon."
(This will have a huge effect on the livelihoods of our fisherfolk. What is worse, the effects of the destruction of the coral reef and the dead marine life will be felt not just by this generation, but also those that follow.)
Coloma said that while the security sector wants to maintain Philippine presence inside its exclusive economic zone, there are not enough resources to do so.
"We have to manage our law enforcement platforms at kailangan din planuhin ang pag-ikot at pag-patrolya dyan sa ating napakalawak na nasasakupan sa West Philippine Sea," he said.
(We have to manage our law enforcement platforms and patrols in the vast West Philippine Sea have to be planned.)
Coloma said, though, that the security sector is intensifying efforts to monitor the West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea within the Philippines' EEZ and continental shelf.
In a statement, Sen. Francis Tolentino said the supposed coral harvesting might be a "prelude to reclamation."
"May iba pang plano siguro po riyan, di lang ‘yong pagkuha ng corals at pagdurog nito. Iyong pagpatay kasi ng corals ay prelude sa isang bagay— pag pinatay mo iyon, pwede ka nang mag-reclaim," he said.
Tolentino, who chairs the newly-created Senate Special Committee on Maritime and Admiralty Zones, also noted that the said harvesting is a violation on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“Kung magfa-file po tayo ng claim, damages, dapat sa isang tribunal na recognized ng UNCLOS, United Nations,” he said.
Tolentino said the cases can be filed before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), International Court of Justice (ICJ), or another arbitration court.
—With a report from Jauhn Etienne Villaruel, ABS-CBN News