Metro Manila, Philippines — The Philippine government will file an environmental case against China over the alleged massive coral harvesting in the West Philippine Sea early next year, according to Justice Secretary Boying Remulla.
Remulla on Thursday met with former Supreme Court justice and former Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, international environmental law expert Antonio Oposa, and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson for West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela to discuss the potential case against China
“We were encouraged to pursue what we think is a good case,” Remulla said. “Kasi ang apektado naman nito hindi lang yung bansa natin, ang apektado dito is yung buong mundo. Yung sinisira nila na pinapanganakan ng isda, hindi na babalik. Eh kung diyan manggagaling ang gamot sana.”
[Translation: We were encouraged to pursue what we think is a good case. Because we’re not the only ones affected by this, it’s the entire world. They are destroying the breeding ground of fish, and they won’t return. What if there is medicine there?]
According to the DOJ, among the “significant evidence” presented during the meeting were China’s “adverse impacts” on the West Philippine Sea, including the destruction of coral reefs and disruption of marine life in the region.
The justice secretary pointed out that there is plenty of evidence that can be used but they will gather more to build a strong case.
“To further strengthen the case, plans are in motion to dispatch PCG vessels to the WPS. The objective is to meticulously document the environmental damage attributable to the activities of the PRC (China),” the DOJ said in a separate statement.
In September, the PCG confirmed findings of damaged, harvested corals, as well as near total absence of marine life forms in Rozul Reef, also known as Iroquois Reef, and in Escoda Shoal, or the Sabina Shoal.
‘Sea of Asia’
During the meeting, there was a suggestion to use the term “Sea of Asia” instead of West Philippine Sea, which the Justice Department clarified is a “strategic decision” to make the case relevant to the international community.
According to the DOJ, the phrase underlines that the West Philippine Sea is a shared treasure for all of Asia and the rest of the world, regardless of territorial conflicts.
It pointed out that the suggestion is limited only to the case.
“This is in no way an indication of the Philippines diluting or weakening its territorial claims or stance,” the DOJ said in a statement.
It explained the primary intention is to engage the international community “in a way that transcends territorial disputes.”
“The spotlight here is not on the ongoing China vs. Philippines territorial dispute,” the DOJ added. “Instead, we are choosing to focus on the more pressing issue at hand: the environmental degradation and destruction by China of the waters around Asia.”
Remulla said the country’s complaint would also include China’s artificial islands.
CNN Philippines’ digital producer Syrah Inocencio contributed to this story.