False narrative! AFP dismisses China’s report on ‘significant harm’ caused by BRP Sierra Madre to environment

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BRP Sierra Madre Ayungin Shoal Resupply Mission.jpg
BRP Sierra Madre (Photo: Armed Forces of the Philippines) 

(Updated)

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) dismissed as a “false narrative” the report of China which accused Philippine Navy (PN) warship BRP Sierra Madre (LS-57) of supposedly causing “significant harm” to the marine environment in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

Rear Adm. Roy Vincent Trinidad, PN spokesperson for West Philippine Sea (WPS), said the July 8 report released by Chinese media Global Times was part of Beijing’s “foreign malign influence operation” warned about by AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. last week.

“Last week, the Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff [Brawner] released a statement informing everybody that we have to be very careful about foreign malign influence, about the wrong narratives being given out by the Chinese Communist Party. This is one such false narrative,” he said in a press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on Tuesday, July 9.

According to the Global Times report, BRP Sierra Madre “has caused damage to the coral reefs and environmental pollution” in the South China Sea.

“Based on remote-sensing and field investigation, the survey showed a sharp decline in the distribution of scleractinia coral on the reef flat and lagoon slope of Ren'ai Jiao, particularly around the area where the Philippines' military vessel is illegally grounded,” the Global Times report said, citing Chinese experts.

“High concentrations of heavy metals, dissolved inorganic phosphorus, and oils were also found in the area, along with anthropogenic disposals such as fishing nets, according to the survey report,” it added.

As such, China called on the Philippines to "mitigate the ongoing damage" as it demanded compensation from the latter for “polluting the Chinese territory.”

In an interview last week, Brawner warned of China’s united front works that allegedly aim to influence different sectors of the society including the education, business, local governments, and the media.

He said one way of fighting “without firing a single shot” is to infiltrate into the various sectors of society of the enemy and “degrade its value system.”

The BRP Sierra Madre was intentionally grounded in Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to serve as a permanent outpost and assert the country’s sovereignty in the area.

The AFP insisted that the dilapidated warship will not be removed from the shoal as it is “an indication of the government’s stand” in the WPS.

“We will not give up that ship,” Trinidad said.

NSC reacts

Meanwhile, the National Security Council (NSC) categorized the accusation by China as "false and a classic misdirection."

NSC spokesperson Asst. Director General Jonathan Malaya pointed out that it is China "who has been found to have caused irreparable damage to corals," "caused untold damage to the maritime environment," and "jeopardized the natural habitat and the livelihood of thousands of Filipino fisherfolk."

Malaya said that In fact, China’s involvement in the destruction of the maritime environment was established by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in 2016. 

He said that on page 464 of the Arbitral Award, it states that China has "aggravated the dispute by building a large artificial island on Mischief Reef (Panganiban Reef); inflicting permanent, irreparable harm to the coral habitat of Mischief Reef (Panganiban Reef); and commencing large-scale island building and construction work in Cuarteron Reef (Calderon Reef), Fiery Cross Reef (Kagitingan Reef), Gaven Reef (Burgos Reef), Johnson Reef (Mabini Reef), Hughes Reef (McKennan Reef), and Subi Reef (Zamora Reef)." 

These artificial islands now serve as Chinese military bases.

"The Arbitral Tribunal found that Chinese authorities were aware that their fishers were harvesting endangered sea turtles, coral, and giant clams on a substantial scale in the South China Sea, using methods that inflict severe damage on the coral reef environment, and they had not fulfilled their obligations to stop such activities," Malaya said.

Moreover, a 2023 report released by the independent non-profit organization Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), found that: “more than 6,200 acres (25 sq. kilometers) of coral reef have been destroyed by island-building activities in the South China Sea, with 75 percent of the damage being done by China; another 16,353 acres (66.1 sq. kilometers) of coral reef were damaged due to giant clam harvesting by Chinese fishermen, and China has caused the most reef destruction through dredging and landfill, burying roughly 4,648 acres (18.8km2) of reef.”

"The Philippines has also collated evidence that China has been responsible for severe damage to corals in Bajo de Masinloc, Rozul Reef, Escoda Shoal, Sabina Shoal, and Pag-asa Cays 1, 2, and 3, among others," Malaya noted.

He said the swarming and indiscriminate, illegal fishing activities of Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) in the said areas have "severely degraded the marine environment" in the West Philippine Sea.

"We call on the public and the international community to be wary and conscious of on-going activities by Chinese state-owned media and so-called 'Chinese experts' to spread fake news and disinformation and conduct malign influence operations in the Philippines, including this false accusation against BRP Sierra Madre," Malaya said.