China urged to open Panatag to international inspection

Michael Punongbayan - The Philippine Star
China urged to open Panatag to international inspection
A Chinese Coast Guard ship sails beside the boat number 2 of the Atin Ito civilian resupply mission in the vicinity of the Bajo de Masinloc at the West Philippine Sea on May 15, 2024.
STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — An independent third-party entity – possibly the United Nations or a respected environment group – should inspect Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal to validate the “incontrovertible proof” presented by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) of China’s massive destruction of corals and other marine resources in the area, according to National Security Council assistant director general Jonathan Malaya.

“In the face of China’s repeated denials, we call on China to open up Bajo de Masinloc to international inspection and we also call on third-party inspectors from relevant United Nations bodies or respected environmental organizations to determine the true situation therein in order to protect the environment,” Malaya said on Monday, referring to Panatag Shoal by its other name.

Malaya noted that the PCG has been documenting Chinese destructive activities in Panatag Shoal since 2016, including their harvesting in large quantities of giant clams, sea turtles, puffer fish, stingrays, eels and other marine animals.

“Chinese entities have been continuously engaged in large-scale harvesting of endangered species, unlawfully exploiting the vulnerable species with wild abandon,” Malaya, who is also a spokesman for the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea, said.

“Giant clams, among others, are declared protected species under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Faura (CITES),” he added.

Malaya stressed that China has no legal rights over Panatag Shoal and its expansive claims over almost the entire South China Sea were already invalidated in a ruling in 2016 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague.

“In fact, the arbitral tribunal in its decision stated that ‘The Tribunal’ also found that Chinese authorities were aware that Chinese fishermen have harvested endangered sea turtles, coral and giant clams on a substantial scale in the South China Sea (using methods that inflict severe damage on the coral reef environment) and had not fulfilled their obligations to stop such activities,” he said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, at a press conference on Monday, accused the Philippines of singling out China in the environmental damage in the West Philippine Sea.

“If any environmental degradation appears in those waters, it is the Philippines who needs to reflect on its behavior, instead of wrongly accusing China,” he added.

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