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Philippines’ DOJ urges cases vs. China over ‘coral harvesting’

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is recommending the filing of cases against China concerning instances of extensive coral harvesting in the disputed West Philippine Sea, according to Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla.

Over the weekend, the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command reported the discovery of missing corals after Chinese military militia vessels left the Rozul Reef.

Remulla said he would discuss the matter with Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin "as soon as possible."

"We are recommending the filing of such cases against the perpetrators of this evil act, which is the destruction of the environment," Remulla said.

"We believe it can be done. We will pursue these cases against China because it's no longer acceptable. We have a lot of evidence," he added.

Remulla said that even without a territorial dispute, "the destruction of the environment is a sin against humanity."

He said that there was a strong case to file on behalf of the Republic of the Philippines "for the sake of humanity itself."

Remulla said the government would engage the top environmental lawyers in the country for the potential legal action.

"This has been happening for many years, but the documentation started a couple of years ago, and in the last few months, we obtained more documentation," Remulla said.

"So the matter is ripe for the filing of a case in international tribunals," he added.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command on Saturday said that there were cases of massive coral harvesting in the Rozul Reef.

AFP-Western Command Commander Vice Admiral Albert Carlos said the military sent out divers after Chinese military militia vessels left the swarmed area “to do an underwater survey.”

“And we saw that there were no more corals. The corals were damaged, and there was debris,” Carlos said.

“We are coordinating with scientists, experts to do their assessment of the area,” he added.

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. on Tuesday said the reported destruction of corals at the Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal was being verified since the destruction of corals and marine life violated an international treaty.

“We have to validate it because, according to the arbitral award, that is a violation of an international treaty, the destruction of maritime life, particularly if the coral destruction is a cause of or used for reclamation of artificial islands,” Teodoro said.

Afterwards, Teodoro said the DND would coordinate with the Department of Foreign Affairs for appropriate action.

The Philippine Coast Guard on Monday confirmed "severe damage" to the marine environment and coral reef in the seabed of Rozul Reef and the Escoda Shoal.

BRP Sindangan and BRP CABRA held maritime patrols after 33 and 15 Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels were spotted in Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal, respectively, from August 9 to September 11.

“The surveys conducted in Escoda Shoal revealed visible discoloration of its seabed, strongly indicating that deliberate activities may have been undertaken to modify the natural topography of its underwater terrain,” PCG Commodore Jay Tarriela said in a statement.

According to Tarriela, the corals were possibly harvested, processed, and returned to the seabed.

“The presence of crushed corals strongly suggests a potential act of dumping, possibly involving the same dead corals that were previously processed and cleaned before being returned to the seabed,” he said.

Tarriela said the PCG was working with concerned agencies to estimate the cost of the damage to corals in the WPS.

These agencies included the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), and the UP Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI). —NB, GMA Integrated News