Phl gov’t should urge Chinese cooperation
MANILA — The Philippine government should demand that China cooperate in restoring the damaged marine environment of Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, a maritime law expert said.
Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, suggested that this should be one of the government's actions if it is serious in maintaining a rulesbased order at sea.
China could do this by supporting a Philippineled coral implanting and rehabilitation program to address the massive damage inflicted by Chinese fishermen who have cut up the reef while extracting giant clams in the area.
"Today, China has done nothing to make up for this massive damage even though it has recognized, a bit too late, the need to stop its fishermen from engaging in this destructive behavior," Batongbacal said in a forum organized by independent think tank Stratbase ADR Institute.
The maritime expert noted that more than 550 hectares of damage could be seen from satellite photos.
"Using the valuation of Tubbataha Reef damage in 2013 for example, which was as P24,000 per square kilometer, the damage is at least worth P132 billion," he said, referring to the grounding of USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper, in 2013. The US paid the Philippine government around P87 million in compensation for the damage in 2015.
Cooperation between the Philippines and China in rehabilitating Scarborough Shoal would be in line with both countries' commitment under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and international law.
This initiative, however, would not necessarily entail the direct implementation of the arbitral award issued two years ago.
Joint exploration in uncontested areas
Another action the Philippines could make in addressing the issues in the West Philippine Sea would be lifting the moratorium on petroleum service contracts in the region and proceed with joint exploration in uncontested areas.
"This will also demonstrate the country will not endanger its own economy and energy security," Batongbacal said.
Following Chinese President Xi Jinping's declaration that Beijing has no intention of militarizing the South China Sea, the Philippines should also demand an unequivocal commitment from China to remove weapons on its outposts in the South China Sea, particularly Mischief Reef.