Senators clam China’s alleged abuse of marine resources in PH reef

(ABS-CBN) An irate Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri on Monday strongly criticized China over the reported unlawful harvesting of corals in Rozul o Iroquios Reef and Escoda Shoal (Sabina) which are within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Escoda Shoal is 133 kilometers or 72 nautical miles away from Palawan, while Iroquis Reef is 138 nautical miles away from Rizal, Palawan.

“Nakakainis talaga ang ginagawa nila sa ating West Philippine Sea. Pati ba naman yung corals natin ay sinisira nila, hina-harvest nila,” said Zubiri.

He said China’s alleged destruction of the Philippines’ marine resources has a very serious implication, specifically on food security.

Zubiri called the activities as “acts of sabotaging” the Philippines’ natural resources.

“It’s a food security issue. Pag winasak na po nila iyon, eh anong magagawa ng ating mga mangingisda? Wala na pong fishing grounds dahil na pong breeding grounds ang ating mga isda. Definitely, they are sabotaging our natural resources. They are also sabotaging our ability to feed our people. Dahil mawawalan na po ng isda itong mga lugar na ito,” he said.

The Senate leader called on the Chinese government, including their embassy officials in the Philippines to respect and protect coral reefs which takes hundreds of years to breed.

“We allow them freedom of navigation. Pero kung sisirain man nila ang coral reefs na yan at wanton harvest of our marine resources, I think that is foul. Sana respetuhin nila. Kung hindi po sila nagre-respeto sa ating arbitral ruling. At least respetuhin po naman nila ang marine resources,” Zubiri pointed out.

“Winasak po nila, bakit? Bakit po nila ginawa yun. Umaapela po ako sa China at sa Chinese Embassy to stop this wanton destruction of our coral reefs and our core resources in the West Philippine Sea,” he added. 

Zubiri earlier committed that they will give additional budget to the Department of National Defense and Philippine Coast Guard so they could buy additional equipment and ships to guard Philippine waters.

The Senate will give an additional P600 million for the construction of marine ranger stations in Pangasinan, Palawan, and other parts of the West Philippine Sea, Zubiri said.

Senator Francis Tolentino, in a separate briefing, showed a before and after photos of Escoda Shoal following China’s reported activities in the area.

He said coral reefs are not only important as habitat for sea creatures but also in absorbing carbon emissions. 

“Sa nangyayari po ngayon, hindi lang po ang marine resources natin ang nakikita, kundi pati na rin, nakakadulot na rin ng malawakang pagsira sa ating klima. Samakatuwid, baka dumating ang araw, sinasabi ng mga siyentipiko, pag sira ang iyong mga coral reefs, pwede ka ring magkaroon ng tsunami, pwedeng mas malakas ang alon sa Palawan. Nakakatakot po yun,” Tolentino pointed out.

If proven, China’s destruction of the country’s marine resources can be filed as a formal environment case before the ITLOS (International Tribunal on the Laws of the Sea) and the International Court of Justice, he said.

“All within the exclusive economic zone. Sang-ayo sa nilagdaan, UNCLOS dapat pangalagaan po natin ang ating mineral resources kasama po ang coral reefs,” Tolentino said.

“Dapat iakyat, i-elevate natin yung kaso sa ITLOS, yung pagsira ng marine bio-diversity,” he added.
Senator Jinggoy Estrada, chairman of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation, also expressed alarm about the latest findings of the Philippine Coast Guard regarding the situation in Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal.

“Mariin nating kinokondena ang mga mapanirang gawain sa Rozul Reef at Escoda Shoal. Reports of deliberate man-made alteration to the natural topography of its underwater terrain, allegedly carried out by the Chinese maritime militia in these areas, are a matter of grave concern,” Estrada said.

“These invaluable natural resources are not only crucial to the ecological balance of our oceans but also hold immense cultural and economic significance for the Filipino people,” he added.

Senator Ronald dela Rosa on the other hand, wants to verify the PCG’s latest report, including the possible motivation of China for harvesting the corals in the Philippine EEZ.

“Ipa-check natin kung ano ang extent ng damage at ano ang magiging purpose nila doon bakit nila ginawa doon… giniba ba yun para malalim yung kanilang dadaanan? O giniba yun para malalim yun, i-recover yung nasira na mga corals at gagamitin for reclamation yung kanilang area,” dela Rosa, chairman of the Senate Public Order and Dangerous Drugs Committee, said.
“We keep on exposing what evil deeds they (China) they have done. At least nalaman ng mundo na may ginagawa silang hindi maganda. Regadless kung ma-stop man natin o hindi, kasi we want to stop them, there’s no way but to use force… that we cannot afford for the time being,” he added.

Zubiri’s remarks coincided with the “Maritime and Archipelagic Nation Awareness Month 2023″ hosted by the Senate. Participants include NAMRIA (National Mapping and Resource Information Authority), Philippine Navy, Philippine Coast Guard, Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) and Institute for Maritime and Ocean (IMOA).

Among those showcased in the exhibit are the models or micro image of the Jose Rizal Class Frigates, and the anti-submarine warfare helicopter which, according to Commander Orlando Miranda of the Naval Airwing, the military uses in patrolling our seas.

The exhibit also features the centuries-old Philippine map which include the 1734 Murillo Velarde map where it also identifies Bajo Masinloc in Zambales as part of the country’s territory.