West Philippine Sea

AFP suspects China of massive coral harvesting in West Philippine Sea

Bonz Magsambol

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AFP suspects China of massive coral harvesting in West Philippine Sea

AYUNGIN MISSION. Chinese ships surround a Philippine Coast Guard ship on a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal on September 28, 2023.

Philippine Coast Guard

AFP Western Command chief Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos says the Philippines will increase military presence in the area to address the issue

MANILA, Philippines – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) raised the alarm over what they suspect to be massive illegal harvesting of corals in Rozul Reef located in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

AFP Western Command chief Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos disclosed this in a press briefing on Saturday, September 16. He said that they would increase military presence in the Philippine territory due to the resurgence of Chinese vessels swarming around the area and the massive harvesting of corals.

“There was a considerable amount of time na walang swarming doon (that there was no swarming there) because of our presence there,” he said.

“We’d like to maintain 100%, 365 days a year. But because of the weather, limited resources…our troops have to go back to port to refuel, to take some rest,” Carlos added.

Nature, Outdoors, Water
ROZUL REEF. A screenshot of an AFP video showing corals in the previously abundant coral reef area of Rozul Reef have vanished. Courtesy of AFP Wescom

Carlos raised concerns over the suspected massive illegal harvesting of corals in the area because this constitutes a violation of the Philippines’ sovereign rights, as the country has the rightful claim to the resources within its exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.

“When they left…we send out our divers to do an underwater survey and nakita namin na wala nang corals. Nasira na iyong mga corals and then may mga debris (and we saw that there were no corals left. The corals were destroyed and then there were debris),” he said.

The Wescom chief said that while they were not “definitively asserting” that the Chinese vessels were harvesting corals, there were “indications that strongly suggest” the occurrence of such activities.

“That’s why it’s alarming because as far as the Western Command is concerned, it is our duty to protect that sovereign rights para sa mga Pilipino (for the Filipinos) – sila dapat ang mag-enjoy ng resources na nandoon sa exclusive economic zone (they should be the ones enjoying the resources there in the exclusive economic zone),” he said.

Carlos said that the AFP plans to deploy more assets and personnel to the West Philippines Sea to address the issue, although he didn’t provide how many more military personnel would be deployed as additional manpower.

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China has regularly harassed and blocked Philippine ships on resupply missions to Ayungin Shoal. These incidents grabbed the spotlight especially in August, given the Philippine Coast Guard’s (PCG) efforts to publicize China’s harassment of Philippine vessels, including bringing media along to resupply missions or by releasing footage from these missions.

In early August, a resupply mission did not push through after Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militia blocked, harassed, then used water cannons against PCG and AFP-commissioned boats. The Philippines tried again in late August and September. While those missions were successful, Philippine boats still encountered harassment by Chinese vessels.

Ayungin Shoal is within the Philippines’ EEZ, according to a 2016 arbitral ruling. China has refused to recognize that ruling and had recently released a 2023 version of China’s Standard Map, which features a 10-dash line that encompasses the entire South China Sea. – Rappler.com

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.