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Saturday, December 9, 2023

‘Sierra Madre’ falling apart; SolGen to handle WPS case

The BRP Sierra Madre, which was deliberately grounded on Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in 1999 to serve as an outpost for the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea, is deteriorating fast, the Defense Department said Thursday.

Defense Senior Undersecretary Ireneo Espino said the World War II-era ship, home to a handful of Marines, needs immediate repair following recent re-supply operations.

“The deterioration is faster than the supply that we do to Ayungin,” he said.

This is the reason the government continues to conduct rotation and re-provisioning missions to the soldiers on board the BRP Sierra Madre, despite Chinese efforts to disrupt them.

The decision to deliberately ground the vessel on the shoal was in response to China’s occupation of the nearby and then-uninhabited Mischief Reef, also claimed by Manila, a few years earlier.

Meanwhile, retired Supreme Court associate justice and former solicitor general Francis Jardeleza said the government should no longer engage local or foreign lawyers to handle the filing of a caseagainst China for the destruction of coral reefs in the West Philippine Sea.

Instead, the case should be handled by the Office of the Solicitor General, the state’s chief lawyer, Jardeleza said.

Jardeleza, who was the solicitor general when the Philippines filed a case in 2013 against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration,said this would lead to “political accountability” for the way the case was handled.

He praised the initiative taken by Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra to study the legal options that the Philippines should take against China over the destruction of coral reefs.

“I’m so glad that Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra himself said he is now studying what actions to take,” he said.

Nonetheless, Jardeleza noted that it is not yet clear before which international court the Philippines should file a case.

While the filing of a case would cost millions of pesos, thePhilippines has a strong case in view of the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in its favor.

In other developments:

• Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said he has already spoken to Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, who chairs the finance committee, to earmark P600 million to set up marine ranger stations in key coastal areas nationwide to safeguard the West Philippine Sea against Chinese incursions. He said the Senate is working closely with the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources on this initiative. He also vowed to fight for bigger allotments for the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine Navy in the national budget for 2024 to help them buy patrol boats and other equipment.

• Senator Francis Tolentino said the destruction of corals can worsen the effects of natural disasters such as tsunamis, putting coastal communities at risk. Tolentino said coral reefs act as natural barriers, protecting coastlines from storms, wave erosion and tsunamis. Science and Technology Secretary Renato Solidum confirmed this by citing the suffocation of corals in Boracay due to the algae.

“Boracay was a disaster in the making because the corals were being destroyed by the algae,” Solidum said.

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