AFP suspects China militia of coral harvesting in West Philippine Sea

Emmanuel Tupas - The Philippine Star
AFP suspects China militia of coral harvesting in West Philippine Sea
Photos taken by military divers and released by the AFP Western Command yesterday show the empty and damaged coral bed of Rozul (Iroquois) Reef in the West Philippine Sea following massive harvesting. The military sent out its divers for an underwater survey of the reef after Chinese militia vessels left the area.

MANILA, Philippines — Rozul (Iroquois) Reef near Palawan has been plundered of its corals, and the Chinese were likely behind it, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said yesterday.

Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, commander of the AFP’s Western Command (WESCOM), said the massive poaching of corals left a trail of destruction of marine resources in the area, which is within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“Wala na ‘yung corals. Yung mga debris nagkalat na (The corals are no longer there. Debris are scattered around),” Carlos told the Saturday News Forum in Quezon City.

The Chinese may have begun clearing the reef of its corals in July when their ships swarmed around the land feature, which is about 150 nautical miles from the Palawan mainland.

When the Chinese ships left Rozul Reef for Panganiban (Mischief) Reef weeks later, the AFP deployed navy divers to conduct underwater survey.

Carlos said they are coordinating with scientists and marine experts for an assessment of the extent of environmental damage in the area.

He added the AFP – through the Philippine Navy – will beef up its presence in the area to prevent another environmental depredation in the area.

Carlos said ships from the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources are also patrolling the area. “Sama-sama kami (We’re doing it together). Palitan, rotation of our presence,” he said.

Even if the WESCOM has the most number of Philippine vessels patrolling the West Philippine Sea, Carlos admitted they are not enough to completely secure the country’s territorial waters.

“What’s given to us is not enough so we make do with what we have,” he said.

Rozul is one of the three land features within the Philippines’ EEZ where a “concerning resurgence” of Chinese activities had been detected by the AFP earlier.

WESCOM said aerial patrols on Sept. 6 and 7 showed 23 Chinese fishing vessels in Rozul, five in Escoda (Sabina) Shoal and two in Baragatan (Nares) Bank.

“The increased presence of CFVs (Chinese fishing vessels) raises concerns regarding the potential implications for Philippines’ maritime security, fisheries conservation, territorial integrity and preservation of the marine environment. These activities have been a source of tension in the WPS (West Philippine Sea) and have contributed to instability in the region,” WESCOM said.

“The Philippines continues to remain vigilant and take necessary measures to safeguard its vital national interests and maintain stability in the region,” it added.

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