China has taken P9.7 trillion in reefs, fish - and counting

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - February 17, 2021 - 12:00am

• The amount is for poaching, damage and “rent.”

• Computations are based on global scientific measures.

• Duterte can use it for pandemic response, economic recovery.

“We asked so much of them (America) because they have taken so much from us,” President Duterte said Friday. “They have to pay. It’s a shared responsibility, but your share of responsibility does not come free.”

He wants a review of the Phl-US Visiting Forces Agreement. But he was vague on what America has taken or how he will monetize the VFA. The pact is about legalities, like visas for US troops coming for joint military exercises and jurisdiction in case of criminal offenses. The US no longer has military bases in the Philippines. Yet, his spokesman compared Monday the $16-billion Pakistan received from the US in 17 years.

The VFA operationalizes the Phl-US Mutual Defense Treaty. Forged in 1951 the alliance shields against the expansionist Chinese Communist Party. Manila and Washington are to aid each other if attacked in the Pacific and adjunct South China Sea.

The CCP is stepping up sea aggression. Seven Philippine reefs have been landfilled into Chinese island-garrisons. From there gunboat-backed Chinese poachers overfish Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal and mineral-rich Recto (Reed) Bank. All are within the West Philippine Sea, the part of the SCS that forms our 200-mile exclusive economic zone. They are 800 miles distant from China. The Permanent Court of Arbitration has outlawed China’s actions. Manila thus can seek indemnity.

By global measures, China has stolen and ruined P9.725 trillion ($194.5 billion) in Philippine marine wealth to date. The breakdown:

(1) P231.7 billion in seven years of reef ruin.

Starting late 2013 China concreted Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Zamora (Subi), McKennan (Hughes), Calderon (Cuarteron), Mabini (Johnson South) and Burgos (Gaven) Reefs. Panganiban (Mischief) was fortified since 1995. Corals were killed. Fish that spawn and feed in the reefs vanished. Filipinos lost vital sources of rare metals, new medicines and biotechnology.

Half of the 110 million Filipinos live in coastal communities, relying on marine resources for daily needs. The WPS is 40 percent of Philippine waters, interlinked with land resources as one archipelago. Reef devastation saps Philippine and ASEAN bio-diversity.

Thus, we lose P33.1 billion a year, according to University of the Philippines marine scientists. Prof. Deo Florence Onda, PhD, deems the amount conservative. “The value includes services from coral reefs like climate regulation, and benefits from the ecosystem,” he explains. Damage was calculated at $353,429 (P18 million) per hectare per year. The bases: 2012 studies on global ecosystems, published by Dutch firm Elsevier, a world leader in scientific, technical and medical information.

Satellite images show 1,300 ruined hectares in the seven reefs and 550 in Scarborough. Not included are hazy portions due to weather condition. Thus the low estimate, says international maritime lawyer Jay Batongbacal, PhD.

Former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario sums up the P33.1-billion annual loss to P231.7 billion as of 2020.

(2) P644 billion in stolen fish catch since 2014.

From the island-garrisons Chinese warships harass Filipino fishermen. In Panatag they are driven away with machine guns and water cannons. In Recto in 2019 a Chinese steel-hulled maritime militia trawler rammed an anchored Filipino wooden fishing boat then abandoned the 22 crewmen thrown overboard. More maritime militia vessels, armed with rifles, poach around Zamora, Pagasa island and Sandy Cay. Unprotected, Filipinos have been scared off their traditional fishing grounds. Livelihoods of 350,000 have been diminished, del Rosario says.

Philippine fish catch has dwindled while China’s has multiplied in the WPS, Batongbacal cites global figures. 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 Zamora and Panganiban alone cumulatively catch 3,240 tons per day. That’s 1.2 million tons a year.

That loot is worth P92 billion ($1.84 billion) a year, or P644 billion in the seven years that China escalated its poaching. The figures are culled from Southeast Asia Fisheries Development Center. In its 2018 report on fish capture in the SCS, Seafdec calculates the value per ton at $1,534.21, or P76,710 ($1=P50).

China poaching and reef destruction directly affect 26 percent of Filipinos, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources said in 2016. Fish are Filipinos’ main source of food protein. Their reduced WPS catch drives up seafood prices. The 1.2 million tons equals 1.2 billion kilos of fish stolen yearly by China. It can feed 28.6 million Filipinos, or 6.8 million families.

(3) P8.85-trillion actual damage and “rent” for seven occupied reefs.

Equivalence: $177 billion. American geopolitics analyst Prof. Anders Corr, PhD, presented that figure days after Manila’s arbitral victory of July 2016. He used two computation methods:

• For damage, Corrs cited the $1.97 million (P98.5 million) paid by the US for 0.235 hectare 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 arbitral court ruled that China “irreparably destroyed” 12,432 hectares (48 square miles) in the WPS. For Corr, “rent” commenced in 1988 when China grabbed the first six reefs, 1995 for Panganiban and 2012 for Panatag.

Manila and ASEAN members harmed by China can seek 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.”

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Paperback copies of “Gotcha: An Exposé on the Philippine Government” can be delivered to you by 8Letters Bookstore and Publishing. To order: GOTCHA by Jarius Bondoc | Shopee Philippines

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