22nd September 2023 – (Manila) The Philippines is contemplating legal measures against China over accusations of coral reef destruction within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea. Beijing, however, rejects the allegations, dismissing them as an attempt to “create political drama.”
Late on Thursday, the Philippines’ foreign ministry announced that it was awaiting assessments from various agencies to determine the extent of environmental damage in Iroquois Reef, located in the Spratly Islands. The country would be guided by solicitor general Menardo Guevarra in deciding on the appropriate legal action to take.
Guevarra was quoted on Thursday by news outlet Rappler, stating that he was studying the possibility of filing a second legal case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague. However, no final decision has been made regarding the specific legal course of action.
“The DFA stands ready to contribute to this effort,” stated the Department of Foreign Affairs in a released statement, emphasizing that states entering the Philippines’ EEZ and maritime zones are obligated to protect and preserve the marine environment.
Pursuing arbitration in this matter would be highly controversial following the Philippines’ landmark victory in 2016 against China, where the court ruled that Beijing’s claim to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea had no basis under international law.
As of Friday, Guevarra had not responded to requests for comment. Iroquois Reef is situated near Reed Bank, an area where the Philippines intends to access gas reserves in the future. However, this plan is complicated by China’s claim to the same territory.
China, which has refused to acknowledge the 2016 ruling and is sensitive to repeated mentions of the case by Western powers, denied the recent allegations of coral reef destruction.
“We urge the relevant party in the Philippines to stop creating a political drama from fiction,” stated the Chinese embassy in Manila on Thursday, quoting Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning.
The Philippines’ coast guard and armed forces reported earlier this week that “severe damage had been inflicted upon the marine environment and coral” at Iroquois Reef. They attributed the damage to 33 Chinese vessels that were moored in the area during August and September. The vessels, often fishing trawlers, were described as “maritime militia” engaged in the harvesting of coral. Coral in the South China Sea is used for various purposes, including limestone and construction materials, traditional medicines, and even souvenirs and jewellery.
China has asserted its sovereignty claims in the Spratly Islands by constructing man-made islands on submerged reefs, some of which are equipped with runways, hangars, radar, and missile systems. Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines also occupy islands in the archipelago, resulting in overlapping EEZs for several countries.