DOJ: Philippines to pursue case vs China over coral damage

Daphne Galvez - The Philippine Star
DOJ: Philippines to pursue case vs China over coral damage
Screengrab from Philippine Coast Guard shows damage to marine environment and coral reef.
Philippine Coast Guard

MANILA, Philippines — China will be made to answer for the “innumerable and immeasurable” damage it has inflicted on the Philippine environment, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said yesterday as he bared the administration’s decision to proceed with the filing of an environment case against Beijing before an international tribunal.

“We were encouraged to pursue what we think is a good case to pursue on behalf not only of the Filipino people but the rest of humanity. It’s just a matter of organizing the evidence and showing it to the proper tribunal,” Remulla said at a press briefing.

A similar case – labeled as crime against humanity – filed by former ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario against Chinese President Xi Jinping was junked by the International Criminal Court in 2019, citing lack of jurisdiction.

The decision to push through with the filing of a case came after Remulla’s meeting with Philippine Coast Guard-West Philippine Sea spokesman Jay Tarriela as well as with legal experts including renowned environmental lawyer Antonio Oposa and former solicitor general Francis Jardeleza, who was part of the legal team that secured a victory for the Philippines in its arbitration case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016.

Remulla said they hope to have the case ready for filing before an international tribunal by the early part of 2024 or by March “at the latest.”

The justice chief said he believes the Philippines has a strong case based on the “ample” evidence at hand and on many more likely to be obtained by scientists and other experts tapped for the undertaking. He said the Department of Justice will coordinate with the PCG in helping scientists and others involved in the case check areas affected and “see for themselves the beauty that we might lose and the rich marine resources that humanity might never see again,” Remulla said in Filipino.

He said the evidence would include satellite imaging, cinematography and location-based photographs “to show the abomination that China is doing to our waters.”

Asked how confident the government is in making China accountable considering Beijing’s disregard for the 2016 arbitral ruling, Remulla said the case is intended to “address the rest of the world” that the Asian power “cannot respect the environment and the rules.”

“World opinion is very important. It’s also a shame campaign. We have to show the world what they’re doing to us,” he said.

The DOJ first broached the idea of suing China for environmental depredation before an international court following the discovery by the PCG of Chinese fishermen’s plunder of corals in the West Philippine Sea. But China’s reclamation activities and construction of island fortresses in the West Philippine Sea would also be included in the case, Remulla said.

‘Sea of Asia’

It was suggested during the meeting that the West Philippine Sea be referred to as  “Sea of Asia” to make it “relevant to the international community,” the DOJ chief said.

“It’s a matter of nomenclature. If we say West Philippine Sea, South China Sea, we’re referring to the same body of water so we might as well call it the Sea of Asia,” Remulla said.

He emphasized that the use of the term is not intended to dilute or weaken the Philippine position, as the name would only be used in the environmental case.

In a separate statement, the DOJ said the highlight of the case would not be the ongoing maritime dispute but the environmental degradation and destruction caused by China’s activities.

“Our primary intention behind this suggested term is to engage the international community in a way that transcends territorial disputes. We hope to underscore the point that this sea, regardless of the territorial claims and disputes, is a shared heritage and resource for all of Asia, and by extension, the world,” it said.

“By adopting this term for this specific case, we aim to rally the international community against harmful environmental actions, emphasizing that no matter who claims ownership, the responsibility to protect and preserve it is a shared one,” the DOJ added.

Meanwhile, US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan conducted flight operations off Eastern Luzon on Wednesday in a show of enduring alliance between the Philippines and the US amid escalating tensions in the West Philippine Sea.

US embassy spokesperson Kanishka Gangopadhyay said the USS Ronald Reagan’s visit was a regular exercise of the country’s “ironclad” alliance with the Philippines.

“We have an ironclad alliance with the Philippines and we are very glad we get to have these visits because they really show the strength of our relationship,” the embassy spokesperson said, as quoted by ABS-CBN News.

The USS Ronald Reagan is the US Navy’s sole forward-deployed aircraft carrier

It is the flagship of Carrier Strike 5 group, which includes the Ticonderoga class guided-missile cruisers USS Antietam (CG 54) and USS Chancellorsville (CG 62).

“The last time we had the Reagan before this visit, we knew for months… In response, I would just say that these visits are part of our alliance. They happen all the time at regular intervals,” Gangopadhyay said. - Neil Jayson Servallos

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