The Philippines must be wary of the plans of China to rehabilitate the coral reefs damaged by the latter’s construction of artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea, also known as the South Sea.
Atty. Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said on Monday, Jan. 7, that the Philippines should be involved in the restoration since the area is within the exclusive economic zone of the country.
“Kung sinasabi natin na teritoryo natin iyan at katubigan natin iyan, dapat ang batas natin ang nanaig,” Batongbacal said during DZRH’s Damdaming Bayan.
“Kaya dapat tayong mabahala na sinasabi ng China na gagawin nila itong coral reef restoration na ito ay alam naman natin na yung mga facilities, ang ilan diyan, ay nasa loob ng West Philippine Sea. Dapat tayo ang masusunod,” Batongbacal added.
The professor stressed that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) should inquire on the intent, the duration, and the area covered by the planned coral reef rehabilitation of China.
Batongbacal added that the Department of Science and Technology, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources must also speak out due to their previous coral reef restoration projects.
He also believes that the Philippine government must insist that the rehabilitation of China should only be conducted in the high seas outside the West Philippine Sea, and not within the continental shelf of the Philippines.
If the Philippines will not challenge China’s plan to rehabilitate the coral reefs in the West Philippine Sea, Batongbacal fears that the latter might use the restoration project to exert their claim over the disputed territory and it’s natural resources.
“Ang mangyayari diyan ay parang sa Scarborough Shoal. Kontrolado nila yung reef, hindi nga sila nag-ooccupy, pero hindi tayo maka-pasok at hindi tayo maka-gamit sa sarili natin katubigan,” Batongbacal explained.
“Parang pinapayagan na lang natin, kinikilala na lang natin na sa kanila yung area na iyon kasi sila ang gumagamit, at sila ang nag-rerepair at nag-maimaintain,” Batongbacal said.
The expert added that China must show their sincerity on the aforementioned environmental project by inviting scientists and technicians from the other claimants of the West Philipine Sea, including the Philippines.
Batongbacal trusts that the DFA, under the leadership of newly appointed Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr., will be more inquisitive regarding the actions of China in the West Philippine Sea.