In a Palace press briefing, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the Philippines views China’s recent harvesting of giant clams in the Philippine-claimed waters as a violation of the country’s sovereignty.
“Of course, [it’s a violation] because if it’s our territory, therefore, it is an affront to our territory and sovereignty,” Panelo told Palace reporters.
“As far as it is concerned, it [China] owns the vast SCS. Hence, logically, it will be performing acts of ownership or sovereignty over those areas. In other words, they are just being consistent with themselves,” Panelo said.
“We also have to be consistent with ours. As far as we’re concerned, that is ours; we will be objecting to any intrusion to our own territory,” he added.
In an exclusive report, ABS-CBN News said Chinese nationals were mass harvesting giant clams in Scarborough Shoal.
The report also mentioned the presence of 14 Chinese vessels in the area, freely accessing the Philippine-claimed territory and its resources.
Moreover, Filipino fishermen revealed in the report that for years, they have been observing the acts of Chinese vessels harvesting giant clams in the Scarborough Shoal, which remains a traditional fishing ground located 124 nautical miles from Zambales.
According to local fishermen, Chinese Coast Guard speed boats hamper Filipino and other fishing vessels from fishing in the area.
Sought for comment, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Philippine government is already seeking legal actions against China’s supposed extraction of giant clams in Philippine waters.
READ: China ‘far behind’ US, Locsin claims
“We just caught them doing that recently, filed a diplomatic note, and will be taking legal action with our legal department now,” Locsin said on Twitter.
The Palace official then said the government would wait for China to respond.
“We will wait for their official response, and then act on it. One way or the other,” he said. “The fact that we have already issued a diplomatic protest or note verbale is already a statement of the position of this government.”
Asked if the government has plans to seek the aid of the United States, the country’s military ally, to address China’s persistent presence in the Philippine waters and territories, Panelo said: “We’ll wait for the President’s decision on that. These are very serious matters and require serious study.”
The report about the mass extraction of giant clams in the Scarborough Shoal came amid strong exchanges about conflicting territorial claims.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintained that Beijing’s claim over the Nansha or Spratly Islands remains backed by “sufficient historical jurisprudential evidence,” arguing that Chinese fishermen’s rights over the SCS “should not be challenged.”
The Palace made it clear that the country’s claim over the West Philippine Sea is backed by the 2016 arbitral ruling, “accepted principles of public international law but consistent with the directives of our Constitution and the aspirations of the Filipino people.”
“It is our principled stand that the peace in the WPS should be maintained and that China should avoid performing acts that will place at risk the Filipino fishermen fishing in the disputed areas and at the same time cause irritants that will disrupt the current friendly relations of the two countries as well as imperil future bilateral negotiations on matters of mutual concern,” Panelo said in a statement over the weekend.
He then told China that the country’s sovereignty is “non-negotiable.”
The Palace also did not discount the possibility that issue in the contested waters might be discussed during the visit of President Rodrigo Duterte to Beijing.
The President is expected to attend the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in China on April 24 to 27 this year. He will also have a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has been asked to issue a writ of Kalikasan to compel concerned government agencies to rehabilitate and protect the West Philippine Sea, particularly Panatag Shoal, Ayungin Shoal, and Panganiban Reef from environmental damage due to poaching and other illegal extraction and fishing activities being undertaken by Chinese nationals.
In a petition, the members of the Kalayaan Palawan Farmers and Fisherfolk Association and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines sought the issuance of the same relief that the SC issued in 2008 when it ordered all concerned government agencies to coordinate for the cleanup, restoration, and preservation of the Manila Bay.
The petitioners used as basis the documents submitted by the Philippine government in the inter-state arbitration proceedings under Annex VII to the 1982 United National Convention on the Law of the Sea (“UNCLOS”) as well as the 2016 award by the tribunal in the South China Sea Arbitration, which established that foreign poachers and foreign construction and land reclamation entities have caused massive environmental damage in Philippine waters and the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The Philippines won the arbitration on July 12, 2016, but the administration of President Duterte shelved the enforcement of the ruling to the detriment of the Filipinos, particularly fishermen, the petitioners said.
“The fishing communities in Palawan, together with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, now seek a Writ of Kalikasan and Writ of Continuing Mandamus from this Honorable Court, in assertion of their constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology, their public right to obtain the prosecution of violations of Philippine environmental laws in the Philippine EEZ, and their right to prevent the further destruction of the marine environment in the Philippine EEZ,” the petition stated.
The petitioners accused foreign fishermen and other entities of harvesting threatened and endangered species and using cyanide and explosives in Panatag Shoal and Ayungin Shoal as well as undertaking illegal construction activities in Panganiban Reef.
They said the UN-backed arbitral ruling upheld the Philippine government’s claim that Ayungin Shoal, Panganiban Reef and Panatag Shoal are well within the Philippine EEZ, thus, the country’s environmental laws are required to be enforced in these areas.
“Chinese fishermen harvested endangered and threatened species and used cyanide and explosives in their fishing. Foreign entities engaged by Chinese authorities constructed and damaged coral reefs in the process. The marine environment and resources in the areas were damaged severely and extensively in spite of adequate Philippine laws to protect them. Clearly, the damage is brought upon by lack of enforcement of Philippine environmental laws by respondents,” they argued.
Under Presidential Decree 1599, the petitioners said the government is mandated to exercise its sovereign right to conserve and manage the natural resources, preserve the marine environment, and prevent and control pollution in the Philippine EEZ.
Among those named as respondents in their petition for the issuance of a Writ of Kalikasan and a Writ of Continuing Mandamus are Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, Agriculture Secretary Manuel Piñol, and Philippine Coast Guard chief Admiral Elson E. Hermogino.
Earlier, Locsin said it was “not the right time” for Manila to bring up its territorial dispute with Beijing.
Locsin was reacting to the call of former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario over the weekend for the government to invoke a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal’s ruling that invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claim to the South China Sea, following reports of the increased presence of Chinese vessels there.
“This is actually not the right time to bring up disagreements over the South China/West Philippine Sea with both sides hot under the collar while a pissing contest is in full flower,” Locsin tweeted on Monday.
China does not recognize the arbitral ruling that invalidated its claim over the South China Sea through its “9-dash line,” where it claims 90 percent of resource-rich SCS.
After his ascension into office in 2016, Duterte said he would “set aside” the arbitral ruling as he sought closer ties with China.
READ: Duterte to China: Back off from Pag-asa
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