Senate probe sought on cyanide fishing in Panatag Shoal

The Philippine Star
Senate probe sought on cyanide fishing in Panatag Shoal
Senator Francis Tolentino on January 16, 2024.
STAR / Jesse Bustos

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Francis Tolentino is seeking a Senate investigation into the alleged cyanide fishing carried out in parts of the ocean within Philippine territory, particularly near Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which he branded as “environmental terrorism.”

Tolentino said the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species could be used as bases in the filing of complaints against those involved in cyanide fishing.

“Cyanide is more serious. I now consider this as environmental terrorism, destruction of our marine resources through the use of cyanide, and we have a lot of international agreements to hold (perpetrators) accountable. Based on this, whoever violates will be liable,” he said.

A complaint can be filed, he said, before the International Court of Justice “so that we can be compensated for the severity of the damage that our ocean has suffered.”

“What will happen is the testimony of the fishermen will be taken, they will be asked on how much they catch. Since using cyanide, dead fish float around… conventions provide where we file a case, we can be awarded with the corresponding damages,” he said, citing a parallel investigation being done by the Department of Justice.

He noted that the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and fishing companies in Bajo de Masinloc can be summoned to the Senate hearing.

He admitted that the Chinese embassy cannot be invited to the Senate hearings due to immunity, although this can be waived if the Chinese voluntarily attend the hearing.

Meanwhile, with 23 affirmative votes, senators approved on third and final reading Senate Bill 2492 or the Philippine Maritime Zones Act that would reinforce the country’s rights as an archipelagic state, authored by Tolentino.

Tolentino said SB 2492 is a landmark legislation that establishes the Philippine Maritime Zones in compliance with UNCLOS and the 2016 Arbitral Ruling.

“The new law sets the archipelagic boundaries, the country’s internal waters and exclusive economic zones over which the Philippine government exercises sovereignty and jurisdiction. Under the measure, the Philippine sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) are highlighted together with the Benham Rise, now known as Talampas ng Pilipinas,” he added.

Tolentino said the measure would likewise protect the rights of Filipino fishermen over the vast resources of the West Philippine Sea as well as the untapped energy resources in the area.

He said the new law serves as the cornerstone of maritime policy, protecting the country’s sovereignty and addressing national security needs.

“We can forge more alliances with other countries, under a rules-based international order in compliance with UNCLOS,” he said, noting the law has been 30 years in the making.

Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva said the legislation would be part of the Philippines’ legal, political and diplomatic strategies in enforcing the rule of law in its maritime domain.

Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. said, “We are passing this proposal to inform those who trample on our sovereignty and destroy our natural resources (that) we will not be muzzled.”

Sen. Robinhood Padilla said the hope of the Muslims for their claim to Sabah has been revived because of SB 2492.

Philippine Coast Guard-West Philippine Sea spokesman Commodore Jay Tarriela has expressed concern over the increased presence of pro-China trolls and influencers in social media.

In an interview yesterday with Teleradyo Serbisyo, Tarriela said China’s counter response to the transparency strategy of the Philippine government on the situation in the West Philippine Sea was to send out more trolls to flood social media.

“The approach now of China to counter the transparency strategy of the Phl government, particularly the NTF-WPS, is to carry out information operations to have more trolls and pro-China mouthpieces to misinform the Filipinos and for them to divide our country and not be united against China,” he said, referring to the national task force. — Cecille Suerte Felipe, Evelyn Macairan

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