The Philippines emphasized before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg, Germany that the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration that denied China’s expansive claims to the South China Sea also cites the “obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment.”
The statement came as reports indicated widespread damage done by Chinese fishing boats in the Rozul (Iroquois) Reef and Escoda (Sabina) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Maria Angela Ponce, who posted about the Philippine statement before the ITLOS on the X social media platform, said the 2016 arbitration ruling “is legally binding international law.”
“It pronounced legal doctrines that could help determine the outcome of these proceedings. It is legally binding international law. Its validity cannot be assailed,” she said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has called on all concerned to act responsibly and stop all activities that damage the maritime environment.
The Philippine Coast Guard earlier said the marine environment in the Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal showed “minimal to no signs of life” when it surveyed the area.
The DFA said the Philippines “is seriously concerned” about the development, considering the affected reefs are part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, which China continues to contest despite international law and the arbitral award.
China’s embassy in Manila had no comment on the issue.
“The Philippines has consistently raised the alarm over ecologically harmful activities, conducted by foreign vessels, in our maritime zones, an issue extensively discussed in the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea,” DFA said, in a statement.
“The well-being of millions of people who depend on the South China Sea for their livelihood is at stake,” it added.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo earlier asserted that the award already “settled the status of historic rights and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea.”
The award also “declared without legal effect claims that exceed entitlements geographical and substantive limits set” by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Manalo added.
The arbitral ruling issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on July 12, 2016 rejected China’s claim, on the basis of its historic “nine-dash line,” over the West Philippine Sea, and affirmed the Philippines’ position over the water that is part of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) based on UNCLOS.
“The award has since facilitated the plotting of new paths and trajectories, reflecting the rich maritime heritage of our country and our people, firm in the conviction that our rights over our maritime jurisdictions are indisputable,” Manalo said.
Manalo said the Philippines is honored that the award is now standing “as a beacon whose guiding light serves all nations.” He also took pride in the “path of principle” that the country took when it decided to file a case for arbitration against China to peacefully settle the dispute.
“It is a settled landmark and a definitive contribution to the progressive development of international law. It is ours as much as it is the world’s,” he said.
“Just as lighthouses aid vessels in navigating the seas, the award will continue to illuminate the path for all who strive towards not just the peaceful resolution of disputes but also the maintenance of a rules-based international order,” he added.
Manalo said the Philippines “will continue to translate” the positive outcomes of the award into positive gains for the sake of the Filipino people as well as to secure legitimate interests in the maritime domain, and to promote peace, security, and prosperity in the region.
Manalo also welcomed the growing number of countries backing the
Philippines’ position on the West Philippine Sea as Manila commemorated on July 12, the 7th anniversary of the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea.
Several nations—including the United States, United Kingdom, India, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Austria, Romania, Slovakia, Finland, and Sweden—have openly supported the Philippines’ territorial integrity over the water that is being unilaterally and illegally claimed by China.
The Philippines and the United States have expressed concern over the harvesting of corals in the Rozul (Iroquois) Reef and Escoda (Sabina) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea purportedly by personnel of foreign vessels, saying the livelihood of the people is at stake.
US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson said it was “troubling” to hear reports of the environmental damage.
“Habitat damage harms ecosystems and negatively affects lives and livelihoods,” Carlson said. Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. said the reported destruction of the marine environment was still being validated, saying the destruction of corals and marine life violated an international treaty.
“We have to validate it because, according to the arbitral award, that is a violation of an international treaty, the destruction of maritime life, particularly if the coral destruction is a cause of or used for reclamation of artificial islands,” he said.
The PCG said Chinese maritime militia dumped processed coral reefs in parts of the West Philippine Sea, after harvesting it. Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG’s spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, said they were “puzzled” why China brought back the clean and crushed corals to Escoda Shoal.
Senator Risa Hontiveros said China’s debts to the Philippines are growing longer, referring to the damage done to coral reefs in the West Philippine Sea. In an interview at CNN Philippines on Tuesday, the senator noted this wasn’t the first time that China resorted to destruction of the country’s resources inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
She said she once called for China to pay for damages because their vessels in the WPS crashed into a reef ecosystem.
“And there’s really a way of computing the monetary value of such damaged or destroyed ecosystems,” she added. Hontiveros considered as shocking what they saw on videos from the Philippine Coast Guard showing no marine life in the area. Senator Francis Tolentino said the destruction of marine resources would aggravate the problems of climate change.