On Earth Day, PH gov’t asked to defend resources in WPS

Published April 22, 2021, 10:03 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

House deputy minority leader and Bayan Muna Carlos Zarate urged on Thursday, April 22, the Duterte administration to protect the Philippines’ natural resources from being exploited by China in its incursions in the West Philippines Sea (WPS).

In his Earth Day statement, the progressive lawmaker told the government to “defend the Philippine’s environment and resources from  China’s exploitation.

“China’s expansionist and militaristic base building has already caused massive environmental damage to our country and is depleting our natural resources. The Duterte administration should act now to stop these environmentally degrading activities or there would be nothing left for future generations,” Zarate added.

He cited reports from Filipino environmental and scientist groups about several instances of China’s “destructive activities” in the Philippines exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“And, they are staggering and alarming,” Zarate lamented.

For instance, he said the Agham Advocates of Science and Technology that Chinese activities in West Philippine Sea resulted in at least 16,000 hectares of destroyed reefs as of 2017.

The damage was estimated to reach up to P 33.1 billion per year if the encroachment continues, he noted.

He also mentioned concerns from the Homonhon Environmental Rescue Organization that dredging and mining operations were reportedly ongoing in the Davao Region, Central Mindanao, Northern Luzon, and other regions in the Visayas, with the soil dumped to build China’s structures in the WPS.

“Also, fears of fish shortage surfaced amid reports that as much as 240,000 kilos, or more than 260 tons, are illegally taken daily by Chinese fishing vessels that had massed up in the Julian Felipe Reef since March, thereby depleting the fish catch of Filipino fisherfolks. This will worsen, especially with the latest defeatist statement of the president,” Zarate also raised. 

The opposition lawmaker also flagged China-funded projects, such as the Kaliwa dam and the Chico dam irrigation, as “massive environmental destroyers”.

“If they are implemented as these will inundate thousands of hectares of watershed areas and parts of Sierra Madre. More importantly, it will displace indigenous people like the Dumagats and Remontados,” he added. 

Last Tuesday, April 20, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said President Duterte will “tolerate” fishing activities of Chinese vessels in the WPS, maintaining that Filipinos can also fish freely in the contested waters.

Duterte himself said that he was “not so much interested” in fishing in the WPS, doubting that “there’s enough fishing really to quarrel about”.

“Hindi naman talaga kilala itong body of water na ‘to for fishing dahil ang description nito sa mga mapa ‘dangerous grounds’, kasi mabato ‘yan (This body of water is not really known for fishing because its description in the maps is ‘dangerous grounds’, since it is rocky)…It’s not really renowned for fishing,” Roque claimed.

These remarks, even as the National Task Force for the WPS (NTF-WPS) said on April 13 that some “240,000 kilos of fish are illegally taken from Philippine waters every single day” by Chinese vessels that were swarmed various reefs in the WPS.

“These acts fall under illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing,” the NTF-WPS added.