The Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command on Saturday confirmed there were cases of massive coral harvesting along Rozul (Iroquios) Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
At the Saturday News Forum in Quezon AFP-Western Command Commander Vice Admiral Albert Carlos said the military sent out its divers after Chinese military militia vessels left the swarmed area “to do underwater survey.”
“And nakita namin wala na ‘yung mga corals. Nasira na ‘yung mga corals and may debris,” Carlos said.
(We saw that there were no more corals. The corals were damaged and there were debris.)
“We are coordinating with scientists, experts to do their assessment of the area,” he said.
The area, which is within the country’s exclusive economic zone, is where Chinese military and militia vessels were seen swarming, according to a tweet by GMA Integrated News’ JP Soriano.
Carlos clarified that it is not yet conclusivel if the Chinese vessels were indeed the ones who harvested corals in 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.
Nevertheless, he said that the presence of Chinese vessels in the territorial waters of the Philippines “is already alarming because we have the sovereign rights in our Exclusive Economic Zone.”
“It looks like somebody is exercising that right without our permission,” Carlos said.
The AFP-Wescom earlier confirmed that there has been a “concerning resurgence” of swarming activity involving over two dozen Chinese fishing vessels in the WPS.
The Wescom also said that “previous swarming incidents in the area have also been followed by reports of massive coral harvesting, further raising concerns about their harmful environmental impact.”
AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar said during the forum that the reported coral harvesting “will be affecting the production of fish.”
“That is a threat to food security later on,” Aguilar said, adding that the military and other security agencies of the government “have to be active because… it is also our responsibility that the environment is protected.”
Carlos said the AFP-Wescom is “increasing our presence there.”
The AFP-Wescom, which is in charge of Palawan and the Kalayaan Group of Islands, earlier said additional swarming was spotted in Escoda (Sabina) Shoal with five Chinese fishing vessels, and in Baragatan (Nares) Bank with two Chinese fishing vessels.
Like Rozul Reef, Escoda Shoal is also located within the Philippine EEZ and serves as a marker for the approach to Ayungin Shoal, which is part of the Kalayaan Group of Islands.
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea (WPS) as it ignores the July 2016 ruling by the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that invalidates its massive claims.
Amid the swarming activity, Wescom said Philippine security officials will “remain vigilant and take necessary measures to safeguard its vital national interests and maintain stability in the region. –KG/ VAL, GMA Integrated News