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Philippines says China should allow scrutiny of Scarborough Shoal

Philippines says China should allow scrutiny of Scarborough Shoal

The Philippines challenged China on Monday to open Scarborough Shoal to international scrutiny after it accused Beijing of destroying the shoal's marine environment.

“In order for the  world to find out if China indeed has fulfilled its obligations under international law, buksan natin yung (let us open) Bajo de Masinloc to international scrutiny,” National Security Council spokesperson Jonathan Malaya told a press conference. 

“We can ask third party environmental groups or even the United Nations to do a fact-finding mission to determine the environmental situation in Bajo de Masinloc,” he added.

Evidence and information, Malaya said, are being gathered for a possible filing of another case, particularly an environmental case, against China. These will be submitted to the Department of Justice and Office of the Solicitor General, who will then decide if the Philippines will pursue another case.

"We are alarmed and worried about the situation that's happening there," Malaya said.

Malaya said there was a growing consensus within the Philippine government on the need to file a case against China over the destruction of coral reefs, including the harvesting of endangered giant clams, in the South China Sea.

Also during the  press conference, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson for WPS Commodore Jay Tarriela enumerated the alleged destruction made by China in Bajo de Masinloc since 2016.

He said that since 2016, it has been observed that Chinese fishermen, who are suspected maritime militia members, have been transporting many giant clams harvested from Bajo de Masinloc

Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), giant clams are declared protected species.

“On top of China's consistent harvesting activities, underwater footages as early as 2017 confirm that their presence and ecological footprint has led to the degradation of the marine environment in Bajo de Masinloc,” Tarriela said.

In July 2018, Tarriela said Chinese entities have gathered and piled up empty giant clams to anchor their service boats at the shallow part of the shoal.

These activities of Chinese fishermen continued to November and December in 2018.

“Chinese fishermen from small boats were monitored continuously harvesting topshells (Trochus niloticus), locally known as ‘samong.’ Approximately 50 submerged plastic containers containing collected topshells were documented,” Tarriela said.

On February 27, 2019, several piles of marked giant clams were seen at the shallow part of the shoal along with floating markers.

“Two live sea turtles were sighted tied in captivity by Chinese fishermen in the northern part of BdM. One turtle survived and was freed, while the other was found dead two days later,” Tarriela said.

More piles of unmarked giant clams were documented in the area on March 3, 2019.

“During a Maritime DomainAwareness (MDA) flight on 22 April 2019, the PCG discovered small Chinese service boats scouring the seabed inside the BdM shoal,” Tarriela said.

“This underwater scouring was likely done deliberately to search for more giant clams, eventually leading to ‘reef scarring’ and the destruction of critical marine habitats,” he added.

Recently, the collection of topshells or leswe has been the only recurring event in the shoal, according to Tarriela.

“This shift to limited activity may be attributed to the depletion of giant clams and the killing off of marine life in BdM,” he said.

Arbitral ruling

The Philippines secured a landmark victory in 2016 a case against China that concluded Beijing's claim to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea had no basis under international law.

China, which has refused to recognize the 2016 ruling and has chafed at repeated mention of the case by Western powers, has repeatedly denied the claims of destruction of coral reefs.

"If you really believe in what you're saying, open up Bajo de Masinloc to international scrutiny, it has to be a third party" Malaya said.

Manila refers to Scarborough Shoal as the Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag Shoal. —with Reuters/KBK, GMA Integrated News