Satellite images posted by Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, compare the situation of Panatag Shoal in 2009, 2014 and 2016. From left: the undisturbed coral reef segment in 2009; the visible reef damage allegedly caused by Chinese boats which use propellers to harvest giant clams in 2014, two years after Beijing took control of the area; and even more damage with deep scars outlined by the shadows (highlighted) in 2016, when 300 square meters of formerly pristine reef were turned into rubble.
MANILA, Philippines — Publicly-available satellite images show the considerable damage supposedly made by Chinese clam diggers in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal since 2012, an international maritime law expert posted on social media yesterday.
Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, shared satellite images taken from Google Earth that showed changes in the shoal since the Chinese took control of the resource-rich area six years ago.
“Using Google Earth, one can measure about 552 hectares of the back (inner) reef of Scarborough Shoal visibly destroyed by clam diggers since 2012,” he said in a post on his social media accounts.
“That’s visible damage, by the way. Only ground-truthing can provide a truly accurate assessment,” he added.
In an earlier post, Batongbacal posted three satellite images of the shoal which showed what he said are scars left by Chinese fishermen that used propellers to cut the reef in order to dislodge giant clams.
“The third, taken a few months after the arbitral award handed down in 2016, shows even more scars and indicating complete destruction of the area shown (approximately 2.5-kilometer distance from end to end),” he wrote.
“All this destruction took place with the China Coast Guard keeping watch over the shoal. In 2016, the CSIS AMTI (Center for Strategic and International Studies-Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative) estimated roughly half of the total reef area of Scarborough to have been destroyed,” he added.
Batongbacal noted that Chinese boats continued to carry out this activity until 2017 as seen by photos taken by the media during maritime air patrols.
He said the recent complaints of Filipino fishermen against Chinese Coast Guard taking their fish indicate activities that continuously damage the shoal.
Duterte told: Protect fishermen, not yourself
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate urged President Duterte yesterday to send the Philippine Coast Guard to Panatag Shoal to protect fishermen from alleged harassment by the Chinese.
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on the Laity (ECL) chairman Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said Duterte’s lackluster protest contributed to Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea, while Sen. Richard Gordon stressed the government cannot afford to remain docile in dealing with China if it wants to be taken seriously in its claims over its territories.
In his blog “Panaghoy,” Pabillo said Duterte is responsible for China’s encroachment into Philippine territory, bullying of Filipino fishermen and destruction of marine resources.
Pabillo pointed out that during Duterte’s term, China was able to bring in more military hardware to the disputed West Philippine Sea, which is also being claimed by other countries including the Philippines.
The Manila bishop said Duterte takes the matter lightly, even claiming that China promised to protect him from foreign detractors who might attempt to oust him from the presidency.
“Duterte and his administration have not made any fuss on China’s moves and aggressiveness. He just jokes about them and even makes innuendoes that China will protect him and not allow him to fall. If this is the message he sends out, China on its part will not hesitate to do what it wants,” Pabillo said.
“So again we can say that Duterte has a great influence in the Chinese aggression even if he does not have any direct hand in it,” Pabillo noted.
Pabillo said there is not even any strongly-worded protest against “our big neighbor” even if Filipino fishermen are already being harassed in their own territories.
“The Chinese have even the gall to claim that it is by their own goodwill that Filipinos fish in their (that is, our) seas,” Pabillo said.
Pabillo also pointed out that China is not a defender of human rights or the rule of law, does not accept international law if it is not to its advantage and uses its might to bully a poor neighbor, like what it is doing in the West Philippine Sea.
“China can easily bully us too if we allow it to gain any foothold in our territories and in our policies. Duterte too is playing the same game. He has no moral compass to guide him,” Pabillo said.
Even if Duterte has often said that he loves the Philippines, the bishop doubted his sincerity.
Pabillo said the Chief Executive has “no love of country… He uses situations just to his own advantage. He does not care about the Filipinos or about the future of the country.”
Zarate, for his part, said the President should send the PCG to accompany or escort the hapless fisherfolk at Panatag Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc, or in other Philippine-claimed areas in the West Philippine Sea.
“We have to show China that we are serious in defending our people as well as our territory. Our officials should always assert our independence, instead of them acting as apologists for China, which apparently now treats the Philippines as her vassal state,” Zarate said.
China took control of Panatag Shoal in 2012 after a standoff between Chinese and Philippine vessels. Beijing refused to honor an agreement mediated by the United States to end the standoff and made it appear that the Philippines backed down, the previous administration said.
Under the 2016 United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that invalidated China’s territorial claim over the whole of the South China Sea, including a large part of the country’s exclusive economic zone, Panatag Shoal was declared a traditional fishing ground of Filipinos, Chinese and Vietnamese.
“China is apparently treating the Duterte administration as a pushover by doing what they want in Bajo de Masinloc and the rest of the (West Philippine Sea) without nary a whimper from Malacañang,” Zarate said.
“We are not saying that we declare war on China. But what we need is for Malacañang to stand up for our fisherfolk and our territory. We have already suggested in the past the filing of a diplomatic protest and increasing patrols of our seas, among others. One thing is clear though, the government must do something now to stop this invasion of China,” Zarate said.
Zarate also cautioned the US against exacerbating tension in the disputed sea.
“The situation in the West Philippine Sea is already getting serious. The US and China should stop their sabre rattling so as to lessen tension. The Philippines and other small claimants are in a situation akin to having two bullies in their backyard raring for a fight and thrashing each other without regard for the backyard or the houses nearby,” he said.
He urged claimant-states like the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia to work together to ease tension in the West Philippine Sea.
Fishermen from Zambales and Pangasinan have reported that Chinese Coast Guard personnel have been taking part of their catch in Panatag Shoal area and that Chinese fishermen have destroyed coral reefs there.
Seek foreign help
Gordon said the government must be more aggressive in dealing with China, which has been claiming areas in the disputed South China Sea and clearly establishing a military presence there.
In an interview over dwIZ, Gordon said the Philippines’ claims over the West Philippine Sea would not be taken seriously by China since it has no military might to speak of at all.
He recalled how China refrained from acting so aggressively when the US still had its military bases in the Philippines.
With the American bases long gone, Gordon said there is nothing standing in the way of China doing what it wants in the disputed waters.
Gordon urged the government to reach out to its allies such as the US, Japan, New Zealand, Korea and Australia for support.
He said the Philippines must make its presence felt in the West Philippine Sea by building its own structures there, whether these are airfields, buildings or any structure to show signs of occupation.
Gordon said diplomatic protests against China should also be filed if this has not yet been done in order to show that the country would not allow itself to be bullied.
Even if these actions could result in some form of retaliation from China, Gordon said the country should be ready to accept this because pushing back is the right thing to do.
Gordon said it is time the government takes the strengthening of the armed forces seriously because this has been neglected by all of the previous administrations.
He recalled how he pushed for the allocation of 13 percent of the collections from the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law for building up the military, but this was not carried.
“You cannot have any bargaining chip if you don’t have a strong armed forces,” Gordon said.
Gordon said he has met with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to find out what the military needs in the 2019 national budget. – With Jess Diaz, Marvin Sy / Evelyn Macairan, Janvic Mateo (The Philippine Star) – June 17, 2018 – 12:00am
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