Palace wants DA to validate cost of China's damage to PH marine ecosystem
Malacanang said on Thursday that the Department of Agriculture should validate the report by Filipino marine scientists, stating that the Philippines is losing P33 billion a year due to China's reclamation and its nationals' illegal fishing activities in the West Philippine Sea.
In a press briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the government could only undertake the necessary measures once it has confirmed about the report.
"First we don’t know about that, we have to let the particular agency or department responsible for that. And I think this is under the Department of Agriculture, because the fisheries is under it. They should conduct a study on that, to validate that particular finding of one particular group," he said.
Deo Florence Onda, a scientist with the University of the Philippines’ Marine Science Institute (UP MSI), reportedly said that the Philippines has been losing P33.1 billion every year from the damaged reef ecosystems at Panatag Shoal and the Spratly Islands.
The Philippines has been claiming those areas in the South China Sea, which it calls as the West Philippine Sea. But China has been claiming also almost the entire South China Sea, including those within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.
Beijing had constructed artificial islands in the disputed waters, while the Chinese fishermen allegedly also conducted illegal fishing, including harvesting of giant clams, in Panatag Shoal.
Onda has said that the reported damage was just a "conservative esimate."
The destroyed reef ecosystems at Panatag covered 550 hectares and 1,300 ha in the Spratlys group, reportedly based on satellite image.
Panelo said the department concerned should conduct its own study and "then the government will undertake measures."
Asked if the government is concerned over the report, he said, "We will always be concerned if (it) affects the security of the state and if (it) affects the general welfare of the people."
The Duterte administration recently drew criticisms for not taking a strong stance against Chinese fishermen's entry in the Philippine EEZ.
President Rodrigo Duterte has refused to categorically state if it is now the policy of his administration to allow Chinese fishermen within the country's EEZ.
Panelo has insisted, quoting Duterte, that there is a "mutual agreement" between the President and Chinese President Xi Jinping in October 2016 regarding the fishing arrangement of Filipino and Chinese fishermen in the disputed waters.
While there was no written agreement, Panelo, who is also the chief presidential legal counsel, said that such deal was binding since there is a transcript of what transpired during Duterte and Xi's bilateral meeting, which includes the matter.
But Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. in an interview by ANC on Wednesday, said that the Philippines is not allowing Chinese to fish within its EEZ, describing the verbal agreement between Duterte and Xi as "pointless" since it was not translated into writing.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles echoed Locsin's position, stressing that the Philippines will exercise its "exclusive sovereign rights over it (EEZ) and we will continue to guard it and do what is written in our law and Constitution." Celerina Monte/DMS