Malacañang: No to 'costly' suit vs China over damaged reefs

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Wednesday, June 13, thumbed down calls to sue China over destroyed coral reefs in Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal, as taking legal action would be costly and would "reverse the diplomatic gains" of the Philippines. 

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque issued the statement in response to the recommendation of Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio.

"Filing a new case against China will reverse our diplomatic gains, not to mention the cost it entails," Roque said.

He said Malacañang preferred discussing concerns over the damaged coral reefs during bilateral talks with China on the sea row.

"At present, we have an existing bilateral consultation mechanism (BCM) with China, which has resulted in productive exchange of views on how to boost cooperation on areas which include maritime environmental protection," said Roque.

He insisted that the Duterte administration's bid for friendlier ties with Beijing has yielded "positive results" for the Philippines.

"The administration believes in diplomacy and we are a witness to how our friendly consultation and negotiation with China yielded positive results," said Duterte's spokesman.

He said both China and the Philippines have committed to "deal strictly with those who do not abide by relevant regulations."

On Tuesday, June 12, Carpio said the Philippines should file a new case against China  to "demand damages" for its fishermen's destruction of coral reefs while  harvesting giant clams in Scarborough Shoal.

Carpio said this was in violation of China's obligation under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) "to protect and preserve the marine environment."

This stemmed from a GMA 7 report which quoted Filipino fishermen saying Chinese fishermen would dig through coral reefs to get through the rare clams. National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr had also confirmed this, adding that the Philippine government has relayed the concern to China.

While Malacañang insists the Philippines is reaping the rewards of its "warm" friendship with China, critics have pointed to Beijing's actions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) that indicate otherwise.

China Coast Guard personnel were caught on camera taking the catch of Filipino fishermen in Scarborough Shoal. China has promised to "discipline" the personnel involved. Last month, a China chopper also tailed a Philippine Navy boat on a resupply mission in Ayungin Shoal. 

A tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in July 2016 that Panatag Shoal "has been a traditional fishing ground for fishermen of many nationalities," and declared "that China has, through the operation of its official vessels at Scarborough Shoal from May 2012 onwards, unlawfully prevented fishermen from the Philippines from engaging in traditional fishing at Scarborough Shoal."

The Duterte administration, however, has downplayed the Philippines' victory in exchange for economic benefits from China. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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