China’s suspected damaging of WPS reefs ‘ripe’ for Senate probe – Hontiveros

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 18) – Senator Risa Hontiveros believes China’s suspected harvesting and destruction of coral reefs in the Iroquois Reef and Escoda Shoal may be “ripe” for a Senate resolution and investigation.

The Philippine Coast Guard and the military named China as likely behind the rampant environmental damage in the West Philippine Sea’s marine biomes after its militia vessels were seen over the affected waters.

READ: PCG to tap marine experts to inspect WPS reefs supposedly damaged by China

“Well posibleng ripe talaga iyan for a Senate resolution and investigation, kasi it would not be the first time na nag environmental degradation ang Tsina sa ating dagat,” Hontiveros said in a Monday interview.

[Translation: It’s possibly ripe for a Senate resolution and investigation as it's not the first time that China has committed environmental degradation in our seas.]

“They also dredged our sea floor to invent their artificial islands, militarize them, within the West Philippine Sea and our exclusive economic zone, para iclaim na teritoryo nila [to claim it as their territory],” she added.

In its 2016 ruling, the international tribunal created under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) found that China violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights by illegally constructing artificial islands within its exclusive economic zone.

Chinese state-run media Xinhua reported in 2019 that Beijing built ecological protection facilities and marine observation centers throughout the Spratly islands. Maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal said this was an attempt to mask its creation of military bases in the area.

READ: China to restore Spratlys' reefs destroyed due to island-building

Sen. Francis Tolentino theorized that China's alleged harvesting operations could be a prelude to even more land reclamation projects in the West Philippine Sea, adding that this was a violation of UNCLOS.

“Iyong pagpatay kasi ng corals ay prelude sa isang bagay – pag pinatay mo iyon, pwede ka nang mag-reclaim,” he said. “Kung magfa-file po tayo ng claim, damages, dapat sa isang tribunal na recognized ng UNCLOS.”

[Translation: The killing of corals is a prelude to one thing – if it is dead, one can now reclaim…If we will file damage claims, it should be with a tribunal recognized by UNCLOS.]

Similarly outraged by the harvesting reports, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said his chamber was working with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to establish marine ranger stations in key coastal areas around the country.

He added that he spoke with Sen. Sonny Angara, chairperson of the Senate finance committee, to earmark ₱600 million for the initiative.

Zubiri also vowed more funding for the PCG and the Navy to better equip the agencies amid rising tensions with Beijing.

Last month, the Senate adopted a resolution condemning China’s actions in the West Philippine Sea and urging the Department of Foreign Affairs to raise this before the United Nations General Assembly.