China’s marine destruction bared

Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - November 27, 2015 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – China’s aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea, including moves that nearly cost the lives of Filipinos, highlighted Manila’s oral arguments at the resumption of hearings Thursday on its case against Beijing before an international arbitral court based in The Hague.

The environmental damage caused by China’s massive island building activities in disputed waters also came into focus during oral arguments before the Permanent Court of Arbitration, a bulletin relayed by the Philippine legal team showed.

One of the country’s representatives, professor Alan Boyle, presented in detail cases of near-collisions that occurred in April and May 2012 at the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal involving Chinese maritime surveillance ships and Philippine vessels.

The bulletin cited Boyle’s assailing China’s “deliberate disregard for international law” for endangering maritime vessels and their crew.

Professor Bernard Oxman, another counsel for the Philippines, presented to the tribunal other actions by China that only aggravated the dispute over maritime boundaries.

“Oxman cited instances where the Philippines was blocked by China from entering Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal for a resupply mission,” the bulletin said. Ayungin Shoal is guarded by a detachment of Philippine Marines stationed on a grounded World War II era transport ship called BRP Sierra Madre.

Philippine boats had to engage bigger Chinese ships in a cat-and-mouse chase just to deliver supplies and provisions to the Sierra Madre.

Oxman stressed that China’s denial of access is part of “a deliberate policy to physically expel the Philippines and its nationals from the disputed features and its surrounding waters.” 

The Philippines’ legal team also said the damage caused by China’s island building activities to South China Sea’s complex coral reef ecosystem “is close to catastrophic.”

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Philippine legal team presented two experts to testify on the environmental damage caused by China’s actions and on the flaws on China’s setting of its maritime boundaries.

One of the experts spoke about the 47 features in the South China Sea that the tribunal wanted to look into for the determination of exclusive economic zone and territorial waters.

The bulletin also showed that professor Kent Carpenter, who is part of the Department of Biological Sciences of the Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, explained that China’s land reclamation and island building activities have greatly harmed the environment.

Professor Clive Schofield, another expert, presented his findings on 47 features that the tribunal wanted to determine “whether they are insular, low tide or high tide elevations.”

Schofield is the current director of research at the Australian Centre for Ocean Resource and Security at the University of Wollongong, Australia.

Satellite images of Panatag Shoal at high tide and low tide were also presented by Schofield to the arbitral court.

Land features can serve as reference for marking territorial waters and determining which country can fish in specific areas.

Paul Reichler, principal counsel for the Philippines, explained that the witnesses were independent experts whose analyses were based on their areas of specialization, the bulletin read.

Boyle also presented to the tribunal the damage wrought on the marine ecosystem by China’s unhampered land reclamation in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea.

“Boyle stated that, if unchecked, China’s activities will continue to pose a significant threat to the marine environment of the South China Sea and of all the states which border the sea,” the bulletin stated.

According to the bulletin, Boyle argued that China violated its obligation under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to protect and preserve the marine environment, citing instances of harmful fishing practices such as blast fishing, cyanide fishing, harvesting of giant clams, catching of turtles and other endangered species.

“Boyle also stressed that China, as a flag state, is responsible for its failure to prevent its fishermen and vessels from engaging in illegal fishing activities,” the bulletin said.

Thursday’s hearing ended the first round of oral arguments on the merits of the Philippine case through which the country seeks to reaffirm its maritime entitlements and dispute China’s claim of sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea.

The Philippines will return to the tribunal on Monday for the second round of oral arguments.

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