MANILA—China's harvest of giant clams in the Scarborough Shoal has led to the "wanton destruction" of the natural environment there, a maritime law expert said Tuesday.
" 'Yung ginagawa nila, despite the friendship policy of the government, parang panloloko talaga dahil itinuloy pa rin nila 'yung mga ginagawa nila dati," Atty. Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines (UP) Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, told DZMM Teleradyo.
(What they are doing, despite the government's friendship policy, is they're making a fool of us because they are just carrying on with their activities.)
He also lamented the fact that Chinese officials seem to know about the illegal act.
"Ang nakakainis talaga kasama pa 'yung China Coast Guard. Obvious na alam nila kung ano ang nangyayari pero pinapayagan lang nila. Baka nga kakuntsaba pa sila dahil ito ay illegal trade talaga pero malaki ang kita dito," Batongbacal added.
(What's infuriating is the China Coast Guard is part of it. It's obvious they know what's happening but they just allow it. There's possible connivance even because there's a lot of money involved in this.)
According to Batongbacal, China uses the shells of giant clams as substitute for ivory. It is then used for sculptures and sold at a high price.
The extraction of the giant clams is also very destructive.
"Para makuha nila 'yan, sisirain talaga nila 'yung bahura, pupulbusin talaga nila. So hindi lang 'yung taklobo, 'yung pagkuha ng taklobo, pero sinisira din nila 'yung mga fishery habitat. Diyan nabubuhay ang mga pangisdaan," Batongbacal said.
(To harvest the clams, they have to destroy the corals, pulverize them. So it's not just the giant clams, harvesting the giant clams, but they are also destroying the fish habitat.)
According to Batongbacal, the government is partly responsible for what is happening.
"Una talaga kasi, ang problema sa atin. From 2016, kahit nanalo tayo sa arbitration umatras tayo, hindi tayo nanindigan doon sa ating karapatan sa karagatan. Bale napabayaan natin ang China na gawin ang gusto niyang gawin, pumasok siya nang pumasok, manira siya nang manira," he said.
(First of all, we're the problem. We may have won the arbitration in 2016 but we didn't assert our rights in the sea. We let China do whatever it wants, go wherever it wants, and destroy whatever it wants.)
He also said the only way to stop the Chinese from what they are doing is for the government to make a stand.
"Manindigan tayo, tumayo naman tayo. Mula doon, tumindig naman tayo, tapangan naman natin ang sarili natin sa pakikipag-usap sa kanila," Batongbacal said.
(We have to make a stand. From there, we should be firm when talking to China.)
Filipino fishermen recently told ABS-CBN News that Chinese Coast Guard ships drove them away from the shoal as wooden ships that bore China's flag harvested giant clams.
Following the report, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Philippines will take legal action against China.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo also said China’s extraction of giant clams in the Scarborough Shoal is an "affront" to Philippine sovereignty.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and a group of fisherfolk from Palawan and Zambales have also asked the Supreme Court to issue a writ of kalikasan and compel cabinet members and government officials to protect and preserve the environment in the West Philippine Sea, which is at risk of “massive destruction” due to Chinese fishing vessels.
According to Batongbacal, it is now up to the high court if it will grant the petition or not.
"The ball is in the Supreme Court kung aaksiyunan nila o hindi," he said.
(The ball is in the Supreme Court if they will take action or not.)
"Kung succesful ito, 'yung writ of kalikasan, then uutusan ng SC ang executive branch na gawin 'yung nararapat gawin para proteksiyonan itong ating taongbayan. Kung kailangang polisiya, kung kailangang magtungo sila sa China, kailangan nila gawin," Batongbacal added.
(If this is successful, the writ of kalikasan, then the Supreme Court will order the executive branch to do what it has to do to protect the people. If it needs to pass a policy, or if it need to go to China, then they have to do it.)