China stealing 1.2 B kilos of fish per year from Phl

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

China is stealing 1.2 billion kilos of fish a year from Filipinos. That’s in just two of eight reefs that China grabbed in the West Philippine Sea, experts say. The loot is in stark contrast to Filipinos’ dwindling catch in the area.

Government must resist China’s incessant poaching. Coupled with China’s continuing militarization in the WPS, 350,000 Filipino fishermen are being driven out of livelihoods.

Coral reefs are a major Filipino source of seafood. China intrusion and reef destruction directly affects 26 percent of Filipinos, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources said in 2016.

Fish are Filipinos’ cheapest source of food protein. The 1.2 billion kilos of fish stolen yearly by China can feed 28.6 million Filipinos, or 6.8 million families, for half that time.

China’s theft and reef concreting is depleting marine resource, to push food prices up and worsen poverty in Southeast Asia. High value tuna, grouper and scud are becoming scarcer. Fisheries will collapse, warned marine ecologist Dr. John McManus of Rosenstiel School at the University of Miami who studies reefs in the region. If China is stopped, the reefs can begin to recover, he told National Geographic in 2016. Instead China today is taking advantage of world distraction by COVID-19 pandemic to tighten illegal control of the seas.

China grabbed Gaven, Hughes, Johnson South, Cuarteron, Fiery Cross, and Subi Reefs in 1988, Mischief Reef in 1995, and Scarborough Shoal in 2012. All are within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone or extended continental shelf, but well beyond China’s. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague has ruled that China’s reef reclamation as island fortresses direly ruined the environment. Poaching goes on too in Recto Bank and around Palawan’s Pag-asa Island.

Philippine fish catch in the WPS has been dropping while China’s is increasing in the WPS, global figures show. China is taking the bulk, said international maritime lawyer Dr. Jay Batongbacal. China’s industrialized fishing fleet dwarfs the Philippines’. Each steel-hulled launch can haul in 12 tons per day, according to Chinese publications. Thus the often sighted 270 Chinese craft in Subi and Mischief alone cumulatively catch 3,240 tons per day. That’s 1,182,600,000 kilos a year, said the head of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea. The nearly 1.2 billion kilos poached in the two reefs matches the entire Philippine catch in the WPS.

Satellite images show Chinese poaching in Scarborough, Recto, Pag-asa, and the other reefs. The intruders are part of China’s fisheries militia based in Hainan, said Prof. Gregory Poling of the Asia Maritime Transparency Institute. “The only reason Chinese fishermen are going out there is because they’re being paid” by Beijing’s communist rulers.

Stolen catch is separate from fish that Filipinos lose from China’s reef devastation. Millions more kilos are deprived from the Philippines.

Corals are fish habitat to spawn and feed. Long studied by Australian conservationist Dr. F. Talbot, a square kilometer of reef yields 15 tons of fish per year. To which Filipino National Scientist Dr. Angel Alcala added that healthy protected Philippine reefs, like Tubbataha in the Sulu Sea, produce up to 37 tons per year. Biodiversity is richer in the equatorial Coral Triangle of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, said president-CEO Joel Palma of Worldwide Fund (WWF) for Nature-Philippines.

The seven reefs listed above were pristine. Then dredgers arrived from Guangdong in 2013 (in Mischief as far back as 1995) to build naval bases, airstrips, and weapons silos. At least 124.32 square kilometers (48 square miles) continuously were ravaged, The Hague court declared.

Going by the conservative 15-ton baseline, Filipinos thus lose 1,865 tons – 1,865,000 kilos – of fish a year from China’s non-stop reef ruin.

Corals yield other resources, said Dr. Deo Florence Onda of the UP Marine Science Institute. Reefs yield new medicines and rare metals, aside from regulating climate. (A square meter of corals also gives forth one to five kilos of sand per year, another physical benefit, Alcala studied.) Citing 2012 global ecosystems survey, Onda said China reef damage costs P33.1 billion a year. That’s P231.7 billion in seven years, said former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario (see Gotcha, 17 June 2020: https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2020/06/17/2021389/chinas-reef-destruction-p2317-b-so-far-pay-up).

Surveys consistently show that nine in ten Filipinos detest China’s encroachment in the WPS, and eight in ten want government to stop it. Officials claim that China is doing it as defense against America, so the Philippines must stay neutral. But Philippine resources are being rendered unusable by Filipinos today and generations to come, said retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio, who helped win the Philippine case at The Hague.

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A Filipino patriot passed away Saturday, June 27, sadly felled by COVID-19. Former Cebu City congressman Antonio Cuenco was a fighter for democracy against the Marcos dictatorship. More than that he was a nation-builder. From his first election as congressman in 1965 at age 29, to being in opposition in Marcos’ parliament, then back to Congress in 1987-1998 and 2001-2010 Cuenco promoted Filipino ideals and strength. He is noted for authoring the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, years before which he was active in rehabilitation. He assured funding for the National Mapping and Research Information Authority, Navy and Coast Guard, and helped craft the Philippine Baselines Act of 2009. In 2016 and 2019 he was elected Cebu city councilor to continue serving in local capacity. He died with his boots on, age 84, participating up to days before in council video sessions.

To his bereaved family our deepest condolences, and prayers for the eternal repose of his good soul.

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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: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Expos%C3%A9s-Investigative-Reporting-Clean-Government-ebook/dp/B00EPX01BG

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Gotcha archives: www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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