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China caused most damage in West Philippine Sea, says marine biologist

A marine biologist said that China was responsible for most of the damage dealt to the coral reefs in the West Philippine Sea due to its construction of artificial islands in the area.

Dr. Kent Carpenter of the Old Dominion University further said that it may take decades, if not centuries, until the water resources would heal, according to a Thursday report by Dano Tingcungco on State of the Nation with Jessica Soho.

"[T]hey have started to extract again tridacna from the reef flats of different parts of the South China Sea. We also have more satellite imagery that shows even in 2018, the sediments continued to bleed away from these islands that were built," Carpenter said.

This was a statement which was shared by political scientist Rommel Banlaoi, who observed the destruction of the reefs.

"In fact last week I was in Hainan, and we talked about how we are destroying the South China Sea because of a lot of economic activities and even military activities in the South China Sea," Banlaoi said.

According to Banlaoi, the remaining 25% of the marine resources in the area were being destroyed at a "very rapid pace." As resources deteriorate, the amount of resources available to Filipino fishermen also diminish.

"One of the things that we have to worry about because of the destruction that was done in the West Philppine Sea [is] that the amount of resources available for the Philippines has actually diminished and there’s some actual evidence for this," Carpenter said.

Due to the damage, Director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea Jay Batongbacal said this was not a matter of territory.

"This destruction is actually in a way, it's literally collateral damage. It's the side effect of China's attempt to take control of the South China Sea," Batongbacal said.

"[I]t damages not only the claimant states but the rest of the world literally because it diminishes the natural resources from which everybody should be benefiting. That should be the basis for a unified and common position against these activities of China," he added.

Batongbacal further said that China had two goals in its utilization of the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoal.

"Since 2013, for example, China announced that it was encouraging its fishermen to fish further and further out south particularly into the South China Sea [...] They are able to push out as well all the fishermen from the surrounding nations," he said.

When the Philippines won the arbitral ruling in the West Philippine Sea in 2016, China partly stopped its operations. However, activities began again early 2018 in the Scarborough Shoal.

Retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio stressed that the Philippines should push its sovereignty over the area, especially since China is beginning to abandon its nine-dash line claim due to trade war with the United States and protests in Hongkong.

"China is indirectly and readily moving away from the indefensible nine-dash line claim," Carpio said.

"The Philippines must stay the course and stick to the MOU and the TOR and the service-contract approach to safeguard its sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea. There must be no deviation from this approach," he added.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana stressed that the military did enough to protect the sovereignty of the Philippines.

"We have persistently upheld our national interests and sovereign rights, especially in the Philippine Rise and the West Philippine Sea," he said.

"The Armed Forces of the Philippines has never shirked from its duties to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the State, and in promoting and sustaining our internal stability," Lorenzana added. —Joahna Lei Casilao/LDF, GMA News