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Chinese Embassy focuses on ship photo to dismiss reported dumping as fake

Jonathan de Santos - Philstar.com
Chinese Embassy focuses on ship photo to dismiss reported dumping as fake
Satellite image from Simularity showing how anchored ships created chlorophyll-a blooms in Union Banks, located entirely within the country's exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.
Simularity

MANILA, Philippines — The Chinese Embassy in Manila says a report on the alleged damage caused by raw sewage from ships in the South China Sea is false and is being used to "[create] hatred and Sinophobia in the Philippines."

In a tweet on Thursday, it also highlighted a 2014 file photo used in a report by US-based geospatial imaging firm Simularity and later by GMA News to claim the report is "fake news." Simularity has since replaced the photo — of dumping in Australia to illustrate the effects of effluents in water — and GMA News has apologized for using it.

"It all started with an foreign agency issuing a report full of lies. Some media immediately spread fake news based on the fabricated report. Finally, some anti-China forces used fake news to accuse and demonize China," the embassy tweeted.

It did not comment on the satellite photos that Simularity CEO Liz Derr said showed how anchored ships created chlorophyll-a blooms in Union Banks, which are located entirely within the country's exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.

RELATED: More than 100 additional ships detected in West Philippine Sea — report | Philippines protests hundreds of Chinese ships swarming West Philippine Sea reef

The Department of National Defense has said it will verify the report but initially dismissed it as false, also citing the photo. Defense Secretary Lorenzana later said the use of the photo showed an "intent to mislead." 

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has also dismissed the Simularity report as fake, saying GMA News had deleted it. While GMA News removed the social media post, its story on the report is still up.

Simularity: Photo used to provide context

In a statement, Simularity stood by its findings, saying also that it "featured an image of a ship, and we gave very clear credit to the image source and we clearly stated that it was an 'unknown ship'." 

It said that the image was used "to provide context that illustrates the common sewage dumping practice of ships, since appreciating the ick-factor of what is happening is very difficult to do based on tiny spots on a satellite image."

It added that the ship photo was not used in its analysis. "There is nothing fake about our research and reporting. Images from multispectral satellites were used in the analysis. The imagery and algorithm that we used to identify Chlorophyll-a from satellite imagery in our latest report is well researched and validated," Simularity also said.

The Chinese Embassy called the report and news articles about it part of a "'whole industry chain' aiming at creating hatred and Sinophobia in the Philippines."

Sentiment against China has grown because of issues in the West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea inside the Philippines' exclusive economic zone and that China says it has historical claims to.

The Simularity report was released at a forum marking the anniversary of a 2016 arbitral ruling that found China's "nine-dash-line" claim does not have basis in international law.

The environment department has said it is coordinating with the DND and the Philippine Coast Guard to verify the report.

Senate inquiry sought

Meanwhile, a resolution has been filed at the Senate for hearings into the alleged destruction of reefs in the West Philippine Sea.

According to a release on the Senate website, Sen. Francis Pangilinan filed a resolution on Thursday for the Committee on Agriculture, Food, and Agrarian Reform to hold an inquiry on the effects that the presence of Chinese ships in Philippine waters affects Filipino fishers.

"[T]he protection of the rights and livelihood of our fisherfolk, especially subsistence fishers, and ensuring food security are urgent tasks," he said in the resolution.

Pangilinan, in the release, pointed out that the alleged dumping would not be the first incident involving China in Philippine waters.

"Chinese vessels have reportedly encroached on Philippine waters multiple times, illegally harvesting marine resources in the area, building artificial islands for military purposes, and barring Filipino fisherfolk from areas within the country's EEZ."

The Palace has stressed that Filipino fishers are no longer being blocked from fishing in Scarborough Shoal, a traditional fishing ground off Zambalaes province, and said in a press briefing this week that reports claiming that they are may be meant to destroy relations between the Philippines and China.

RELATED: Palace: China can expect 'harsh words' if proven to be dumping human waste in West Philippine Sea

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