The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Monday slammed China on its massive reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) that it said have caused ecological damage to some 300 acres of coral reef systems in the sea.
Charles Jose, Foreign Affairs spokesman, said in a news briefing the ecological destruction in the regional waters can result in an estimated $100 million annual economic loss to coastal states.
The figures were based on a 2009 study entitled “Reversing Environmental Degradation Trends in the South China Sea and Gulf of Thailand” by the United Nations Environment Program.
China submitted historical maps, showing the encompassing nine-dash line, to the UN in 2009.
Jose said China’s justification of its activities in the region is unacceptable, and that it was causing “irreversible and widespread damage to the biodiversity and ecological balance” of the West Philippine Sea.
“We cannot accept China’s claim that its activities have not caused damage to the ecological environment of the South China Sea,” the official added.
“China has pursued these activities unilaterally, disregarding peoples in the surrounding states who have depended on the sea for their livelihood for generations.”
Jose said the department may use the ecological damage done by China’s reclamation activities in its oral arguments in an arbitration case that the Philippines had filed before a five-member arbitral tribunal in The Hague.
The Philippines filed the case in January 2013, months after a naval standoff in Scarborough Shoal from April to June 2012.
But on Thursday last week, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released satellite photos showing China’s reclamation activities in Mischief Reef, also called Panganiban Reef in the Philippines and Meiji Reef in China.
Mischief Reef lies just 210 kilometers from the province of Palawan but China’s activities there are bound to restrict Philippine access to Ayungin Shoal and the Recto Bank.
Jose said they are studying the possibility of filing another diplomatic protest against China, an addition to note verbales issued by the Philippines against its neighbor’s aggressive activities in the resource-rich waters.
The department, the official added, is “especially concerned” with the statement of Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying on April 9.
Hua said islands and reefs “will be able to provide all-round and comprehensive services to meet various civilian demands besides satisfying the need of necessary military defense.”
“Such statement by China only serves to raise the specter of increasing militarization and threaten peace and stability in the region,” Jose said.
This year, satellite images of China’s reclamation works show that shoals and reefs in the West Philippine Sea have been turned into artificial islands.
But when the Philippines planned on resuming repair and maintenance in its claimed islands in the region in March, the Chinese foreign ministry expressed serious concern and accused Manila of infringing on Chinese territory.
Chinese reclamation activities, according to Jose, should not distract the government from real issues in the region, which are China’s nine-dash line claim and its “unilateral and aggressive behavior in asserting that claim.”
“We call on China to stop the reclamation activities and to be mindful of its responsibilities as a claimant state and an important member of the international community,” he said, adding that Beijing should respect the 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct and cooperate in discussing the conclusion of a more binding edict, the Code of Conduct.
The department also accused China of tolerating “environmentally harmful fishing practices” by its fishermen at the Bajo de Masinloc, breaching its obligations under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.