It’s China that must be sued for sea theft, ruin

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - February 19, 2021 - 12:00am

Malacañang “hopes” no conflict erupts from China’s new coast guard law to fire on foreign vessels in waters it illegally claims. It’s feeble, critics cry. One doesn’t craft foreign policy on wishful thinking, former national security adviser Jose Almonte said in the 1990s.

China is escalating aggression in our West Philippine Sea. It continues to landfill seven reefs as island garrisons, occupy other sea features and poach millions of tons of fish. Filipinos are barred from traditional fishing grounds. Encroached is 40 percent of Philippine waters.

Total damage so far is $194.5 billion, or P9.725 trillion. Manila can seek indemnity since the Permanent Court of Arbitration has outlawed Beijing’s atrocities. But President Rody Duterte has set aside that 2016 ruling, for loans that hardly came.

Meantime, the Palace demands that America pay up for continuance of the Phl-US Visiting Forces Agreement. Broached is $16 billion that Pakistan received from the US in 17 years. The $3.9 billion given to the Philippines in the same period is paltry since it has big needs against COVID-19, the Palace says.

The VFA implements the Phl-US Mutual Defense Treaty. Forged in 1951, the MDT shields against the expansionist Chinese Communist Party. The CCP had just annexed Tibet and Inner Mongolia, and was infiltrating Indochina and northern Korea. Under the MDT the Philippines and America would aid each other if attacked in the Pacific and adjunct South China Sea.

It’s odd to befriend a bully who has taken our property, a retired general says. Odder still to take money from the guy we expect to help ward off the aggressor. Besides, the pandemic sprang from China, not from America.

Foreign affairs and defense officials oppose termination of the VFA. Not only will we lose US military aid but also more reefs. China harasses Filipino navy men resupplying Marines aboard a grounded vessel in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal. Last year a Chinese warship locked in its weapons on a Filipino patrol near Rizal (Commodore) Reef. Sealifts to Pagasa island in Palawan’s Kalayaan town also are threatened.

One venue for redress is the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. “Seek damages against China for barring our fishermen from our Panatag Shoal and Recto Bank,” retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio says. “Also for destroying our marine environment after we filed for arbitration.”

“We should not be afraid to do this,” Carpio says. “If we are afraid, then we will never be able to defend the WPS.”

The Philippines can secure an ITLOS award of damages. “We can enforce that anywhere in the world for China assets – in the US, Canada or the Philippines. It’s part of our legal strategy... that China cannot just grab our resources in the WPS.”

Carpio cites the Netherlands’ triumph at ITLOS against Russia in the 2013 Arctic Sea case. The Dutch government sued for damages in behalf of 28 environmentalists and a journalist jailed by Russia for protesting offshore oil drilling. Arbiters granted $6-million indemnity including for the damaged ship Arctic Sunrise; Russia haggled then paid $2.7 million. The case affirmed the right to recompense for aggression at sea. “Russia, a nuclear-armed state, paid the Netherlands damages set by a tribunal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” says Carpio.

The $194.5 billion, or P9.725 trillion consists of:

(1) $4.634 billion or P231.7 billion in damage to seven reefs in 2014-2020.

Concreting killed the corals, and fish that spawn and feed there vanished. The ecosystem was upset. Filipinos lost sources of rare metals, new medicines and biotechnology. Oil and gas fields cannot be used, as Chinese coastguards menace Filipino mineral engineers.

(2) $12.88 billion or P644 billion for 8.4 million tons of fish stolen in the seven years.

From the island-fortresses, China gunboats escort poachers to Panatag, Recto and Sandy Cay. Filipino fishing boats are rammed or driven away with machineguns and water cannons. The livelihoods of 350,000 suffered. Seafood prices rose archipelago-wide. Half the population lives in coastal communities and depends on marine resources for daily needs.

(3) $177 billion or P8.85 trillion in actual coral damage and “rent”.

The US paid $1.97 million (P98.5 million) for 0.235 hectare of coral that the USS Guardian gashed in the Sulu Sea in 2015. Extrapolate China’s damage on the 12,432 hectares stated in the Arbitral ruling, American geopolitics expert Anders Corr, PhD suggests. He adds the P10 billion per year that Manila sought from Washington for continued use of each of six US bases. Such “rent” should commence in 1988 when China grabbed Kagitingan, Zamora, McKennan, Calderon, Mabini and Burgos Reefs; 1995 in the case of Panganiban Reef; and 2012 for Panatag.

Manila can seek recompense in the US and “elsewhere China has substantial assets,” says Corr. “If China refuses, they can seek redress in foreign civil courts to attach China’s offshore assets – of which there are plenty.”

Former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario further proposes attachment of China state assets in the Philippines “to satisfy China’s debt to the people.”

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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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