MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines said it is considering "legal action" against the alleged mass harvesting of giant clams by Chinese vessels in Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
"We just caught them doing that recently, filed a diplomatic note, and will be taking legal action," said Foreign Secretary Teodoro "Teddyboy" Locsin Jr in a tweet on Tuesday, April 16, adding that the case is "with our legal department now."
Locsin disclosed this in reaction to an ABS-CBN report on Monday, April 15, showing "that Chinese vessels are mass harvesting giant clams in Scarborough Shoal."
In an interview with CNN Philippines on Tuesday morning, Locsin explained that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) "took the substance" of a related report by the national task force on the West Philippine Sea. He said this report "is verified by us."
"We protest this. This is illegal, and in fact you are also violating conventions on environmental protection, for which we can take legal action," Locsin said in his television interview.
Locsin himself could not explain the legal action the DFA will take, but said the department knows this. "They're studying it," he said.
This comes as the Philippine government recently took a stronger stance against China's incursions in the West Philippine Sea.
The DFA recently said the presence of Chinese militia vessels near Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea is illegal. "Such actions when not repudiated by the Chinese government are deemed to have been adopted by it," the DFA said in a rare statement.
Malacañang later raised the Philippines' legal victory over China at The Hague, reacting to a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson who stressed that the Spratly Islands "are China's territory."
In 2015, the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest against China for collecting giant clams in the same area in the West Philippine Sea. That protest was based on a Philippine Coast Guard report that at least 24 Chinese utility boats were seen collecting giant clams in the lagoon of Scarborough Shoal, also called Bajo de Masinloc, in January that year.
"China’s toleration of, and active support for, the environmentally harmful fishing practices by its nationals at Bajo de Masinloc constitute breaches of its obligations under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora,” the Philippine government had said in 2015, under the administration of Benigno Aquino III. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.