Philippines eyes restitution from China before international tribunal

Daphne Galvez - The Philippine Star
Philippines eyes restitution from China before international tribunal
Photo provided by the Philippine Coast Guard shows the anchor used to hold the floating barrier, which was removed by a diver in Panatag or Scarborough Shoal. The PCG carried out President Marcos’ order to remove the floating barrier placed by China’s coast guard to prevent Filipino fishing boats from entering a lagoon in the disputed shoal.
Photo provided by the Philippine Coast Guard

MANILA, Philippines — The government is considering seeking compensation from China for its “increasing number” of transgressions in the West Philippine Sea, the latest of which were its plunder of corals in Rozul Reef and its installation of floating barriers in Panatag Shoal to ward off Filipino fishermen.

On Monday, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) began removing the floating barrier in Panatag or Scarborough Shoal off Zambales.

In an interview, Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra said his office is studying all legal options to address China’s provocative actions.

“Any legal option that may be taken in the future, including the filing of a complaint before an international tribunal for restitution or compensation, must have a solid factual and legal basis,” he told The STAR.

Guevarra said dealing with the issue “requires a lot of prudent consideration and circumspection.”

The Department of Justice (DOJ) earlier recommended the filing of cases against China over the harvest and destruction of corals in the West Philippine Sea.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said the case would be “very ripe for adjudication” as the Philippines already has a lot of evidence.

In 2013, the Philippines filed a case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague to contest Beijing’s incredible claim in the South China Sea.

In its nine-dash line claim, China is asserting control over almost the entire South China Sea. Recently, Beijing released what it called its standard map showing a 10-dash line or an even bigger coverage of its claim.

In 2016, the arbitral court ruled in favor of the Philippines, reaffirming its maritime entitlements and invalidating China’s nine-dash line claim.

On PCG’s removing the floating barrier at the entrance to Panatag Shoal lagoon, spokesman Commodore Jay Tarriela said it was a “strong statement by the Philippines,” which might trigger strong reaction from China.

“They might still return the floating barrier once again, they might still do shadowing and a dangerous maneuver once again,” Tarriela said in an interview with CNN Philippines.

“With the instruction of the President, we have shown the world that the Filipino people will not back down, and we’re still going to consistently carry out whatever is necessary for us to maintain our presence in the West Philippine Sea,” he said.

On Monday, Tarriela announced on X (formerly Twitter) that the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea directed the PCG to execute a “special operation” to remove the floating barrier.

Intelligence funds

Also in a post on X, Tarriela shared that the PCG has received P10 million in intelligence funds since 2013. In 2012, PCG intelligence funds amounted to P6.4 million. Since 2006, the PCG has recorded a total of P118.7 million in intelligence and confidential funds.

“As a public official, I would like to be transparent and ensure that we do not understate our confidential and intelligence funds,” he said in his post.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), through spokesman Col. Medel Aguilar, said the PCG took the right step when it started dismantling the floating barrier laid down by the Chinese.

Asked if China has increased its presence in the area as a result of PCG’s action, Aguilar said it didn’t matter because Panatag Shoal is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

“We’re just asserting our rights, so we should not be afraid,” he said.

AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. lauded the Philippine Navy for doings its job and called on it to continue fighting for the country’s sovereign rights and territory.

“Let us always bear in mind our own interests. We are Filipinos, and we will fight for the Philippines’ rights, our sovereign rights and our territorial integrity,” Brawner said during his visit to the Philippine Navy headquarters in Roxas Boulevard, Manila.

“The Philippine Navy will play a very important role not just in the defense of our territory but in the development of our country,” he stressed.

Meanwhile, the National Security Council (NSC) is investigating reports of dumping of crushed corals in Sandy Cay sandbar.  The alleged dumping came weeks after Chinese fishing boats plucked out corals in Rozul Reef and Sabina Shoal.

“We must verify the circumstances and facts behind what happened here because they might say again that we’re making political drama out of fiction,” NSC assistant director general Jonathan Malaya said on Monday, referring to a statement released by the Chinese foreign ministry through spokesperson Mao Ning on the extraction of corals. “The first thing we must do is due diligence, we will investigate,” he said at a briefing.

In its statement, Beijing said it is the grounded BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shola that is causing environmental degradation in the South China Sea.

Be more creative

Senators, for their part, have urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to be more creative in dealing with China as the numerous diplomatic protests filed by the Philippines have fallen on deaf ears.

The senators relayed their message yesterday during the deliberation on the DFA’s proposed budget of P24.06 billion for 2024.

“We encourage them to use their imagination and think of more programs and projects to realize our foreign policy strategy, which is captured in one simple sentence: ‘A friend to all, an enemy to none,’” Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III said.

The senators also urged the DFA to keep up its work of educating the public about the West Philippine Sea by explaining in layman’s term the Philippines’ legal victory over China in 2016 before an international arbitral court.

DFA Secretary Enrique Manalo said the department would continue to settle disputes with China “peacefully” under international law.

As for educating the public about the West Philippine Sea, Manalo revealed that a comics version of their explanation of the issue is in the works.

He also said the DFA is awaiting formal report from the PCG on the issue of China’s placing floating barriers in the Panatag Shoal.

Sen. Ronald dela Rosa expressed exasperation over the China’s being unperturbed by DFA’s diplomatic protests

“I’m sick and tired of all these diplomatic protests if they keep on ignoring these. Can we try other modes or approaches, like personally calling their ambassador here?” Dela Rosa said, adding in jest that the DFA should invite the ambassador for some drinks. – Michael Punongbayan, Marc Jayson Cayabyab, Mark Ernest Villeza, Michelle Zoleta

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