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DOJ to help build case vs West Philippine Sea cyanide fishing

Dapne Galvez - The Philippine Star
DOJ to help build case vs West Philippine Sea cyanide fishing
Chinese “maritime militia” surround the BRP Datu Tamblot and Philippine fishing boats during a mission to bring supplies and assistance to the fishermen in Scarborough Shoal in the disputed South China Sea on February 16, 2024.
AFP / Jam Sta. Rosa

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice (DOJ) will support relevant agencies in gathering evidence and building a case against individuals, allegedly Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen, who are using cyanide at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said yesterday.

“Under the leadership of President Marcos Jr., the Philippines will not tolerate any actions that harm our environment or deprive Filipino people of their right to its use and beauty,” Remulla said.

He issued the remark in response to reports that Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen have allegedly been using cyanide for fishing in the shoal, which is also known as Bajo de Masinloc, in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

According to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), they found the lagoon at the shoal heavily damaged, possibly due to cyanide fishing.

Remulla said the DOJ, as the government’s principal law agency, has been actively involved in the country’s ongoing legal action against China over the grounding of its Coast Guard vessels near Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal, resulting in significant damage to the area’s fragile coral ecosystem.

He said the DOJ initiated its study into legal remedies by gathering evidence and collaborating with Philippine marine scientists to quantify the environmental and economic damage inflicted.

The justice department has likewise sought the advice of international law experts to explore legal strategies and forums.

For his part, Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra said allegations on the use of cyanide in the WPS needs “a careful factual verification.”

Guevarra said the Office of the Solicitor General has been studying legal options that the Philippines can take regarding the WPS.

It will collaborate with other relevant agencies, including the Department of Foreign Affairs, the DOJ, the National Security Council and other key members of the WPS task force “when the time is right.”

The DOJ earlier said it is eyeing to file environmental cases against China for its destructive activities in the WPS before the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) would be providing assistance to the BFAR in gathering evidence on the alleged cyanide fishing reportedly done by foreign vessels at Panatag Shoal, PCG-West Philippine Sea spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said yesterday.

“Yes, the PCG will assist the BFAR but we cannot disclose the operational details,” Commodore Tarriela said, without elaborating further.

BFAR spokesman Nazario Briguera said that based on information gathered by the agency’s ground personnel, the illegal activity had already caused extensive damage within the lagoon area.

Joint patrols continue

Slamming China’s claims that joint maritime and air patrols involving the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the United States military constitute “stirring up trouble” in the WPS, National Security Adviser Eduardo Año announced yesterday that such activities in Philippine territorial waters will continue.

“We urge China to respect the sovereign rights of the Philippines conducted within its territory consistent with its national interests and international law,” he said.

“Our engagements with the United States are well within our rights as a sovereign and independent nation, aimed at promoting maritime security and upholding international law. We reject any assertion from other countries that seeks to undermine our legal and legitimate activities,” he stressed.

Año emphasized that the joint air patrol conducted by the Philippine Air Force and the United States Pacific Air Force last Monday is a lawful and routine exercise aimed at enhancing interoperability between allied forces and promoting regional peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region.

“The joint air patrol with the US is part of our longstanding defense cooperation. We will continue to work closely with our friends, allies and partners to ensure a secure and prosperous future for all nations in the Indo-Pacific region,” Año said.

The AFP has conducted three iterations of the MCA in the WPS over the past several months which involved ships and aircraft of the US Indo-Pacific Command and the US Pacific Air Force sailing and flying side-by-side Philippine Navy vessels and Philippine Air Force fighter jets.

Though the conduct of combined maritime patrols in the WPS are being carried out amid continuing territorial issues between the Philippines and China, the military maintains that the joint military activities are not directed at any particular country. – Michael Punongbayan, Evelyn Macairan

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