MANILA – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has expressed its readiness to support the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) as it explores legal options over the damage to corals and seabed in Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra earlier said the OSG would evaluate the merits of every legal option, including the possible filing of a complaint for damages before an international tribunal with proper jurisdiction, such as the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague.
Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza said the DFA “stands ready to contribute to this effort and will be guided by the OSG on these matters.”
In a statement sent to reporters late Thursday, Daza pointed out that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a treaty China is a party to, “obliges states to protect and preserve the marine environment.”
“As clarified by the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea, this obligation applies in all maritime areas, both inside the national jurisdiction of States and beyond it,” she said.
“States entering the Philippines’ EEZ and maritime zones therefore are likewise obliged to protect and preserve our marine environment.”
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has logged "extensive" damage on the seabed of Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal, saying its recent surveys showed that the marine ecosystem in the Philippines features “appeared lifeless, with minimal to no signs of life."
PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, Commodore Jay Tarriela, said he suspects that the “continued swarming for an indiscriminate illegal and destructive fishing activities of the Chinese Maritime Militia in Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal may have directly caused the degradation and destruction of the marine environment in the WPS features.”
In a press conference on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning labeled the reports as the Philippines “creating a political drama from fiction” and demanded that the country remove the BRP Sierra Madre in the Ayungin Shoal instead.
The Chinese government, which continues to reject the 2016 Arbitral Ruling on the South China Sea, also implied that it would not participate in any arbitration case.
The DFA will wait for the complete assessment of relevant government agencies on the environmental damage in Rozul Reef, Daza said.
The Philippines first brought China before the PCA in 2013 and secured a historic win in 2016 after the tribunal firmly rejected Beijing’s expansive claims under its so-called nine-dash line. (PNA)