There was a possibility that the corals harvested from parts of the West Philippine Sea (WPS) were being used by China as materials for decorations, ornaments, and jewelry, maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal said Sunday.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command (AFP-WesCom) said on Saturday that there were cases of massive coral harvesting along the Rozul (Iroquois) Reef which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
“‘Yung habol nila ‘yung mga giant clams sa ilalim ng reef. Pangalawa ‘yung mismong coral, kinukuha din nila at ‘yung mga species doon,” said Batongbacal at a Kapihan forum.
(They are after the giant clams under the reef, as well as the coral itself and the species there.)
“Lahat po ‘yan ginagamit nilang material panggawa ng dekorasyon. Pinangpapalit nila sa ivory, ginagawa nilang mga estatwa, mga palamuti. Tapos ‘yung mga coral, ginagawa nilang jewelry at kung ano ano pang mga bagay,” he added.
(They use those as materials to make decorations. They use it instead of ivory to make statues and ornaments. They use the corals to make jewelry and other things.)
Batongbacal, who is also the director of the University of the Philippines (UP) Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, explained that harvesting corals might affect not just the environment, but the country’s food security as well.
“‘Yung habitat ng fisheries nawawala so nababawasan ‘yung kakayahan ng mga pangisdaaan na magpatuloy na mag-regenerate. Taon taon, bale parang nababawasan ang kanilang capability para ma-maintain ‘yung populations nila,” he said.
(The fishery habitat is disappearing, so the ability of fish to continue to regenerate is reduced. Year by year, it seems that their capability to maintain the fish population is decreasing.)
AFP-WesCom Vice Admiral Albert Carlos said the massive coral harvesting was discovered when the military sent out its divers “to do an underwater survey” after the Chinese militia vessels that swarmed the area left.
“And nakita namin wala na ‘yung mga corals. Nasira na ‘yung mga corals and may debris,” he said.
(We saw that there were no more corals. The corals were damaged and there was debris.)
Carlos, however, clarified that it was not conclusive if the Chinese vessels were responsible for harvesting corals from the Rozul Reef.
“Suspetsa palang natin, we are not saying they [Chinese vessels] are harvesting our corals. We suspect that somebody is harvesting our corals and that means they are violating our sovereign rights,” the AFP-Wescom commander said. — DVM, GMA Integrated news