Environmental activist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) challenged the Duterte administration to demand accountability over the adverse marine ecological impacts of China’s construction boom across the West Philippine Sea, the latest of which is announcement that it plans to build an environmental monitoring station on top of Panatag Shoal.
“Whether it is a radar base, missile installation, or environmental monitoring station, China’s construction boom across West PH Sea violates our national sovereignty and has clearly caused great harm to vast coral reef ecosystems. If Duterte’s pronouncements of an independent foreign policy hold any weight at all, he should deliver on his administration’s promise to file a ‘strong protest’ against China’s construction with specific reference to the continuing destruction of our coral reefs. Duterte should relentlessly engage China in bilateral talks to stop its further destruction of the Philippines’ marine natural resources and instead support our judicious utilization and management by fisherfolk, scientists, and other stakeholders,” said Leon Dulce, campaign coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.
“What the West PH Sea badly needs is the ecological restoration of its heavily degraded coral reefs, not the further conversion of its reefs into Chinese maritime bases,” Dulce added.
Panatag Shoal is one of the seven reefs ‘ocean-filled’ by China to convert the marine ecosystems into man-made islands. The reclamation of these reefs were part of a systematic campaign by Beijing to bolster its territorial claims and militarize the disputed waters.
It can be recalled that the landmark ruling by the International Arbitral Tribunal on the maritime dispute between Philippines and China noted that the reefs heavily modified by land reclamation and the subsequent construction of structures on top of it could not be the basis of territorial claims, which can only be based on the natural condition of the topography alongside historical evidences of inhabitation.
The Tribunal also ruled that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights over its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in its interference in Philippine fishing and petroleum exploration, its contruction of artificial islands, and its failure to hold illegal fishing activity by Chinese fishermen in the zone.
“While Filipino fisherfolk have finally been allowed by China to access their traditional fishing grounds in West PH Sea, fish stocks will continue to dwindle if the coral reef expanses will remain unrehabilitated. We are asking for crumbs from the ‘goodwill’ of China when the International Tribunal should have given us a solid foundation to firmly assert our self-determination over our waters whether through diplomatic persuasion or international pressure,” explained Dulce.
The environment group condemned recent statements by Duterte and other public figures that implied the necessity of returning to US military intervention to bolster our position in the West PH Sea, saying “the return of the US interventionism in the West PH Sea dispute will only worsen the ecological damages and threats of maritime conflict.”
“What kind of solution is the comeback of US rabble rousers and environmental criminals into Philippine waters? We won the international arbitration on our people’s own efforts in establishing the scientific, historic, and legal basis of our sovereignty in West PH Sea. Let us stop exchanging one imperialist for another and exhaust all remedies that do not require subservience to foreign interests,” ended Dulce.#