DENR to look into report of ships dumping waste in West Philippine Sea

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
DENR to look into report of ships dumping waste in West Philippine Sea
This March 7, 2021 photo shows Chinese maritime militia ships moored in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
NTF-WPS via Philippine Coast Guard

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 5:12 p.m.) — The Department of Environment and Natural Resources on Tuesday said it will look into allegations that raw sewage dumped by hundreds of ships anchored in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea, has damaged coral reefs in the area. 

"On the issue of waste disposal on the West Philippine Sea, [w]e will coordinate [with the Philippine Coast Guard and the Department of National Defense] first on the authenticity of the allegation," DENR Undersecretary Benny Antporda said in a message to reporters. 

"[A]fter that we will b[e] seeking for the attention of the Chinese [government through our Department of Foreign Affairs]," he added. "We will also validate if indeed [these] are [C]hinese vessels."

Antiporda was referring to a report from US-based geospatial imagery and data analysis company Simularity which found that the damage caused by the dumping of raw sewage onto reefs "in just the last five years is visible from space" and will "take decades to recover from."

This damage is "in addition to the well-documented reef destruction wrought by China’s giant clam harvesting and artificial island building," reads the report which was presented during an online forum held by the Stratbase ADR Institute on Monday. 

Simularity further warned that the damage to the reefs "directly affects the fish stocks of the entire South China Sea and can lead to a hunger crisis in coastal regions and a collapse of commercial fishing" in the critical waterway. "This is a catastrophe of epic proportions and we are close to the point of no return." 

There were 236 ships, likely Chinese, spotted in Union Banks as of June 17 as seen in satellite images released by the US firm.

Radio DZRH's Christian Maño on Tuesday posted a screenshot of a message from Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana saying the allegation that Chinese ships are dumping waste in the West Philippine Sea is "not true." He also said one photo used in the report "is from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia" but made no comment on the sattelite images presented by Simularity.

 Neither the defense department nor Lorenzana have issued an official statement on the Simularity report.  

Senators urge gov't to hold China accountable 

Earlier Tuesday, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto and Sen. Risa Hontiveros in separate statements urged the DENR to confirm if the reports were true and to hold the parties responsible accountable. 

"Ships are prohibited by domestic and international laws from dumping its refuse and trash into our oceans. Under Philippine laws, such are environmental crimes that carry a jail term and a hefty fine," Recto said. "But even without these laws, decent human behavior commands civilized men not to turn rich fishing grounds into a cesspool of feces." 

"DENR should investigate this, and if there is basis, file charges in court. Government cannot fine sidewalk litterers while turning a blind eye to this," he added. 

Meanwhile, Hontiveros in a statement written in Filipino pointed out that "there has been no baseline report from the [DENR] on the value of lost and destroyed natural resources in the West Philippine Sea." 

The senator in April last year filed a resolution calling on China to pay over P200 billion for the destruction of marine resources in the West Philippine Sea.

She said calculations made by her office based on several reports found that Beijing owes Manila almost P800 billion for the damage caused to coral reef ecosystems and missing fish stock in the West Philippine Sea. 

"It would be better if the DENR itself has an official report that calculates the amount of damages China should pay," Hontiveros added. "This can serve as the standard for our charge against China's continued aggression."

Sen. Francis Pangilinan in a statement written in Filipino said that continued destruction of reefs could spell hunger for "the millions who rely on the resources of the West Philippine Sea.”

He also underscored the potential of the country's EEZ in the West Philippine Sea as an energy source that could shield Filipinos from oil price spikes. 

"This is how China responds to the submissive, tight-lipped, and cowardly. We owe nothing to those who rob us of our seas and oceans [and] insult our fishermen,” Pangilinan said. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Grace Poe said the "act of dumping wastes in the area clearly shows that the dumper knows the West Philippine Sea is not theirs for otherwise they would have respected the ecological value of the rich fishing ground."

”We can only hope that this comes as a wake up call to the administration on the stinking reality that China gives no respect to international law, whether it be our territorial or environmental rights." 

China does not recognize the arbitral ruling that invalidated its expansive claims over the South China Sea which includes the West Philippine Sea.

It continues to deploy ships to the Philippines' exclusive economic zone despite several protests from Manila. 

—  with reports from Patricia Lourdes Viray and Gaea Katreena Cabico




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