From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 7): Photos confirm China reclamation; experts hit reef degradation in Spratly
‘EARTHMOVING ACTIVITIES’ A backhoe attached to a Chinese vessel is apparently scooping up some filling materials in a reclamation project while at the same time harvesting endangered species, giant clams. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE PHILIPPINES
China has reclaimed land in one of the contested reefs in the Spratly Islands, and this time, the defense department is not the only one expressing concern, but Filipino scientists as well.
They have expressed alarm over China’s activities on the contested reefs in Spratly Islands, citing environmental degradation that could adversely affect the country’s population, with “diseases, scarcity of resources and conflict.”
The military has taken photographs of China’s ongoing reclamation activity on Malvar Reef in February, with the pictures showing a backhoe attached to a Chinese vessel that, scientists said, was presumably used to gather filling materials and harvest giant clams.
On Thursday, President Benigno Aquino III said Chinese ships had been monitored moving around other reefs in the West Philippine Sea, possibly to reclaim land in Gavin Reef (Gaven Reef) and Calderon Reef (Cuarteron Reef).
Defense spokesperson Peter Galvez confirmed that China had reclaimed land on Malvar Reef (Eldad Reef), which lies northeast of Mabini Reef (Johnson South Reef), where China had previously reclaimed land.
“It’s called ‘earthmoving activities’ and there’s quite a lot going on in the [West Philippine Sea] that we are monitoring,” Galvez told the Inquirer on the phone.
The defense spokesperson said China’s reclamation activities were especially worrisome not only because of the ongoing territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea, but also because of its impact on the environment.
“The environment is an integral component of a state,” so environmental issues are considered security issues, according to professor Charithie Joaquin of the National Defense College of the Philippines.
“A state must be able to protect its territory and ensure that its citizens enjoy the benefits of the natural resources within its territory,” Joaquin told the Inquirer in an e-mail.
Environmental degradation could adversely affect the population, with “diseases, scarcity of resources and conflict,” she added.
“A sickly population impedes economic growth and drains much-needed resources. Scarce resources, such as water or strategic minerals, could also lead to conflict or exacerbate existing tensions,” Joaquin said, adding that “the consequences of nonsustainable use of natural resources could be irreversible, impacting not just the current generation but generations to come.”
“Because of interconnected ecosystems, the impact oftentimes transcends borders,” she added.
Scientists at the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP MSI) are just as alarmed at China’s relentless harvesting of giant clams, considered endangered species, and corals in the West Philippine Sea.
Fish feed on reefs
One of the country’s foremost experts in marine life conservation, professor emeritus Edgardo Gomez of UP MSI, noted that one-fifth of the fish that Filipinos consume come from the West Philippine Sea, and move around or feed on reefs. Without the reefs, depleted fish productivity is a possibility, he added.
“If you destroy everything, there won’t be any source of food [for the fish],” Gomez explained.
Based on the February 2014 photograph of Malvar Reef, MSI deputy director for research professor Perry Aliño said the backhoe apparently served a dual purpose: to get filling materials for the reclamation and to harvest giant clams.
“[China was] not only collecting the shells but the substrate as well,” he said. A substrate is the base where an organism lives.
Land reclamation effectively destroys the reef and its surroundings, which would have a long-term impact on the environment, said Aliño, who coauthored one of the most definitive books on Kalayaan Islands, a result of an in-depth research conducted by UP MSI.
Reefs play an important role in maintaining biodiversity in the West Philippine Sea, the scientist said, adding that dredging in the reefs would eventually destroy and weaken their framework.
The destruction of the reefs near Pagasa Island in Palawan province could bring bigger waves to the only island in the Kalayaan Island Group, where a small community lives, because reefs serve as ripraps or natural breakwaters that could reduce the force of incoming waves, Gomez said.
The Philippine military has monitored Chinese poachers using dinghies to routinely harvest giant clams (Tridacna gigas), an endangered species of clams, as well as corals and other clam species.
Some 30 to 45 dinghies trawl for giant clams and corals in areas in the West Philippine Sea, like Ayungin Shoal, Pagasa Island, Tizard Bank and reefs, Union Banks and reefs and Hasa-Hasa Shoal, and store their catch in the vessels’ huge cargo hold.
The clams, used for food or decorative purposes, are reportedly sold in the black market in Hainan province in China, with clam shells fetching from
$13 (P567) to $750 (P33,000).
Aliño explained that clams grow on top of each other, such that when they are harvested by dredging, even the fossilized clams are collected.
“They are getting depleted, which would make them more valuable,” he said. “The clams need to be restocked. [But] if they are restocked clams, then they are more valuable because there is already an investment in terms of putting them back.”
The UP MSI has a restocking program for cultured clams for the past 30 years, a brainchild of Gomez who hand-carried the microscopic specimens of giant clams from Solomon Islands that the UP MSI laboratory used for their first cultured giant clams.
The cultured clams are then distributed to different parts of the country, although not a substantial number has been sent to Kalayaan Island Group.
Clams cultured at UP MSI Bolinao Marine Laboratory in Pangasinan province have been brought to Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc in Zambales—and most likely already harvested by the Chinese.
Gomez said it was about time that the government had a “game plan” that would not only protect the territory but also conserve natural resources.
Gomez said it was time for the government to “support blue water oceanography that will help our scientists do research on our [Exclusive Economic Zone] and show the [Philippine] flag.”
“If we have research vessels going out to [Kalayaan Island Group], Scarborough Shoal, the east coast of the Philippines … we are [at least] showing our presence,” he added.
“The registration is designed to store files of professionals so that in the event the future Bangsamoro Government requires workers, they would be easily accessible data base, Chairman Iqbal also said.
His statement came in the light of concerns by some individuals that it may be misconstrued as an opportunity for jobs for everyone once the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) replaces the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in July 2015 or when Bangsamoro is in place by July 2016.
In the same message, he emphasized that over and above the trainings and competence of Moro Professionals is to put in place a new value system that gives premium to accountability.
Iqbal noted that it’s the value system that determines the kind of people running a government.
“The MILF envisions that accountability is not only to people but more so to Allah,” Iqbal told the audience comprising Moro professionals, Shari’ah Lawyers, asatidz (madrasah teachers), BDA, BLMI and BTC staff, media, representatives from international and local non-government organizations who attended the program being funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) with the support of the United Youth for Peace and Development (UNYPAD), Mindanao Action for Peace and Development (MAPAD), etc.
He also allayed fears of ARMM employees of being out rightly removed from their current jobs saying that there is a phase and gradual disposition of members of the bureaucracy. The draft basic law contains a provision on this regard and it also says that a separation scheme may be formulated for those who are in their 60’s or those who may want to be separated.
Atty. Johnny Balawag, Administrative Officer of Dep-Ed Cotabato City Division underscored the importance of the program that aims to gather accurate data on Bangsamoro professionals inside and outside of the Bangsamoro core territory.
On her part, Dr. Armia Usman-Ebrahim, currently the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences of the Cotabato City State Polytechnic College (CCSPC) expressed her thanks to the Moro Front and its hierarchy and recognized their untiring efforts for the Bangsamoro. She said ”We won’t be here today without them”.
The almost two decades of peace negotiations embarked on by the MILF with the government led to the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and its four annexes on October 15, 2012, and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014 will finally put an end to bloody conflict in Mindanao. Under the agreement the tri-people of Mindanao can govern themselves under a strong and expanded autonomy and shape their own destiny.
Dr. Ebrahim also took note of the leadership and significant role of the late MILF Founder Sheikh Salamat Hashim who while still alive emphasized the value of engaging the enemy in peace talks when they initiate for it.
Sheikh Salamat Hashim was still the Moro Front’s chairman when the peace negotiations with the government started in January 1997 and after 17 years the CAB was finally signed giving a light of hope for the Moro people.
Praising the BTC and its partners for coming up with the human resource mapping program, Dr. Ebrahim also stressed the importance of “iman” (Faith) and Ikhlas” (Purity of intention) for Muslims or those that runs a government. These are requisites in public governance so that leaders are divinely guided; government programs and projects are implemented up to the last centavo.
The program is considered the first of its kind with no government administration in the past has ever conducted such an undertaking. The Japanese Government and its people are credited for this timely and noble program.