West Philippine Sea

Cyanide in Scarborough? PH says it would probe, China says ‘disinfo’

Bea Cupin

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Cyanide in Scarborough? PH says it would probe, China says ‘disinfo’

PROTEST. Fisherfolk from the Association of Masinloc Fishermen tow and release an 18-foot symbolic maritime bouy afloat at the West Philippine Sea in Masinloc in Zambales on November 6, 2023. The maritime bouy is in protest of the continuing harassment and aggression by China against Filipino fishermen in Scarborough Shoal.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) Philippine fisherfolk say other nationalities have been using cyanide in Bajo de Masinloc

The Philippine government said on Monday, February 19, that it would “validate and investigate” reports from Filipino fisherfolk of their foreign counterparts using cyanide to fish in Bajo de Masinloc, a shoal that’s supposed to be a shared fishing ground for several nationalities.

Cyanide in Scarborough? PH says it would probe, China says ‘disinfo’

Fresh off his oath-taking as personnel of the Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary, National Security Council spokesperson Jonathan Malaya said the council was “alarmed” by reports even as he emphasized the need to be “careful.”

Over the weekend, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, citing reports from Filipino fisherfolk, said Chinese and Vietnamese fisherfolk were resorting to cyanide fishing, a method that makes it easy to harvest fish because it stuns them. The method also harms other aquatic life.

Cyanide, according to National Geographic article, can either cause coral bleaching or kill coral outright. Corals and coral reefs are crucial because that’s where fish breed, live, and find their food. Killing the coral means making the area less desirable for future generations of fish.

The Philippine Coast Guard, through its spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela, would later say that they could not verify the Filipino fisherfolks’ claims, citing the lack of “scientific study or any evidence.”

Malaya said the NSC has instructed BFAR to “complete the documentation” of the reported cases of cyanide fishing so the Philippines could “investigate.”

If found to be true, Malaya said the NSC would forward its verified information to the justice department or the Solicitor General in efforts to build up a case before an international body over “environmental degradation” in the West Philippine Sea.

In a chance interview on Tuesday, February 20, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. seemed more confident about reports of cyanide use in the shoal.

“The best that we know is that there really is, as far as we can tell,” he said. 

Asked if he wanted a case filed, Marcos was less clear-cut. “If we feel that there is enough grounds to do so, we will,” he said.

The back and forth between Philippine officials is only the latest in what’s been and will be a long chapter that is the current Marcos administration’s push to assert the Philippines’ rights in the West Philippine Sea, or parts of the South China Sea within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough or Panatag Shoal, is among the flashpoints of tensions between the Philippines and China in those waters. China claims it as its own, even if the shoal lies well within the Philippine EEZ. The atoll is also a high tide elevation, meaning it generates a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea surrounding it.

There are several claimants to Bajo de Masinloc, but it’s China that’s had effective control of the shoal since 2012. Beijing also has not been playing nice, even if the shoal is considered traditional fishing ground of Filipino, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Taiwanese fisherfolk.

China Coast Guard (CCG) personnel have been known to place barriers at the shoal’s opening, barring fisherfolk from entering its resource-rich and protective lagoon.

This is because China, after all, considers Scarborough Shoal theirs, referring to it as “Huangyan Dao.”


The Chinese embassy in the Philippines blasted Manila, calling the cyanide allegations “totally baseless and sheer fabrication.”

The embassy also accused the Philippines of “continuous disinformation [that] has led up to nothing but exacerbation of the maritime tensions and destabilization of bilateral relations.”

“The groundless speculations, slanders and inconsistent statements of spokespersons of relevant Philippine agencies can only place their professionalism and credibility in doubt,” added the embassy.

“The Chinese Government attaches great importance to the protection of ecological environment and conservation of fishery resources, and have taken resolute measures to crack down on any illegal fishing activities,” said China’s mission in Manila.

The spokesperson in Beijing echoed the same sentiment.

Mao Ning, spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, said: “The Chinese government attaches great importance to the protection of eco-environment and conservation of fishing resource and resolutely fights against fishing activities that violate laws and regulations.”

China has previous been accused of ruining coral reefs in other areas of the West Philippine Sea.

In mid-January 2024, more than a month after the CCG’s back-to-back use of water cannons against Philippine vessels in Bajo de Masinloc and Ayungin Shoal, Manila and Beijing agreed to sit down and talk in Shanghai.

There, the two countries agreed to improve communication to ease tensions in the West Philippine Sea, particularly over incidents in Ayungin Shoal.

Will another meeting be needed in the near future, this time to address the brewing situation in Bajo de Masinloc? – Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.