China’s reef destruction P231.7 B so far: Pay up

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

China owes the Philippines P231.7 billion for continuing reef destruction and poaching since 2013. With the UN court holding Beijing liable for ecological damage, the Philippines can exact indemnity. China state assets in the Philippines and overseas rightfully can be seized.

Government must press payment. Why and how was discussed last week by scientists and international law and relations experts. Over half of the 110 million Filipinos live in coastal communities, relying on marine resources for daily needs. Recompense will correct years of China atrocity and injustice in the West Philippine Sea. Foreign aggression in exclusive economic zones will be deterred.

“China refuses to pay its debt to Filipinos,” former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario told a webinar of ADR Institute. “Philippine authorities have the right to seize assets and property owned by Chinese state in the Philippines to satisfy China’s debt to the people.” He specified China’s interest in the national electricity grid and the country’s third telco China Telecom.

“China can be held accountable in our country,” del Rosario said. “Our government, as representative of our people, needs to stand up for our legitimate rights.”

Filipinos lose food and marine ecosystems from China’s reef concreting and illegal fishing in the WPS. Scientists have valuated the damage at P33.1 billion a year. That’s P231.7 billion in seven years so far due to China’s landfilling of seven reefs into fortresses, and stealing fish and endangered species from an eighth, Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal.

Staggering as it is, Dr. Deo Florence Onda of the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute called the amount “conservative”. The WPS is 40 percent of Philippine waters, interlinked with land resources as one archipelago. Reef devastation saps the bio-diversity of the country and ASEAN.

“The value includes services we get from coral reefs like climate regulation, and benefits we get from the ecosystem,” Onda told a conservationists’ forum last year. Damage calculation was based on $353,429 (P18 million) per hectare per year for coral reefs. The baseline came from 2012 studies on global ecosystems, published by Dutch firm Elsevier, a world leader in scientific, technical and medical information.

At the time of valuation, satellite images showed 1,300 ruined hectares in the seven reefs and 550 in Scarborough. Hazy portions due to weather condition were excluded from damage assessment. Thus the low estimate, international maritime lawyer Dr. Jay Batongbacal said. For lack of government funding, Filipino researchers have been unable to explore the reefs and surroundings, said Onda last week. “Yet China understands very well the full potential of the area for food, medical and biotechnological resources, ocean energy, rare metals, and more.”

China gunships patrol the artificial islands. Scarborough’s 15,000-hectare lagoon has been fenced off. Abetted by their coast guards, Hainanese illegally harvest shark, fan corals, and rare giant clams that Filipino marine biologists cultivated there decades ago. Only 120 miles off Luzon, the shoal is 800 miles distant from Hainan. Filipino fishers are driven away with water cannons and rifle fire.

Not yet valuated is Chinese poaching in oil and gas rich Recto Bank, Palawan. The June 9 forum was held on the first anniversary of the midnight ramming of an anchored Filipino wooden fishing boat by a Chinese steel-hulled militia launch. Twenty-two Filipinos fell into the sea. The offending China vessel shut its lights and sped off, abandoning the victims in the water, till rescued by a Vietnamese craft.

The seven China-occupied reefs are: Hughes, Johnson South, Subi, Fiery Cross, Gaven, Cuarteron, and Mischief. China grabbed the first six in 1988, and Mischief in 1995. Scarborough was taken in 2012.

Filipino scientists’ reckoning point for the P231.7-billion ruin is late 2013, when dredgers from Guangdong first arrived. The government can use the money for COVID-19 relief and recovery, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said in April.

An American geopolitics analyst has a far higher computation: P8.85 trillion. That’s $177 billion (P50:$1) in rent and ruin to the eight sea features from dates of occupation and breadth of devastation.

Dr. Anders Corr presented the amount days after the UN tribunal in July 2016 outlawed China’s reef encroachments and reclamations. His P8.85 trillion needs updating due to continuing China harm. A Harvard PhD in government and publisher of the journal Political Risk, he used other baselines:

• For damage, $1.97 million (P98.5 million) paid by the US for 0.235 hectares of coral that USS Guardian gashed running aground in the Sulu Sea in 2015; and

• For rent, $1.2 billion (P60 billion) a year that Manila demanded in 1988 for continued use of six US military bases, or $200 million (P10 billion) for each.

The court ruled that China “irreparably destroyed” 12,432 hectares (48 square miles) in the WPS, Corr noted. Rent began in 1988 for the first six reefs, 1995 for Mischief, and 2012 for Scarborough. The P8.85 trillion, or $177 billion total was 65 percent of Philippine GDP and 2 percent of China’s, he said.

Manila and ASEAN members harmed by China can ask recompense in the US and “elsewhere China has substantial assets,” Corr said. “If China refuses, [they] can seek redress in foreign civil courts to attach China’s offshore assets – of which there are plenty.” (See https://www.forbes.com/sites/anderscorr/2016/07/15/the-philippines-should-sue-china-for-177-billion-in-south-china-sea-rent-and-damages/#731da11126a3)

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

My book “Exposés: Investigative Reporting for Clean Government” is available on Amazon: Exposés: Investigative Reporting for Clean Government

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