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Image Courtesy of: CNN Philippines

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has called for an immediate halt to activities that are detrimental to the environment in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

On Monday, the DFA expressed deep concern over reports of coral destruction in Rozul Reef, located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Coral reefs, which once thrived in the shallow waters near Rozul (Iroquios) Reef in the WPS, have disappeared, likely due to extensive harvesting, according to an official from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who reported this on Saturday.

Vice Admiral Albert Carlos, AFP Western Command chief, confirmed these findings after a survey of Rozul Reef, where Chinese maritime militia vessels had been observed “swarming” by Philippine military air assets on September 6 and 7.

The DFA stressed that the Philippines has consistently raised concerns about ecologically damaging activities by foreign vessels in its maritime zones, an issue extensively discussed in the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea.

In a statement, the DFA called on all concerned parties to act responsibly and cease any activities that could harm the precious marine environment. They emphasized, “The well-being of millions of people who depend on the South China Sea for their livelihood is at stake.”

Senate President Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri expressed outrage over the destruction of the marine ecosystem in the WPS, as the continued presence of Chinese vessels within the Philippines’ EEZ threatens global food security.

Zubiri pointed to the reported damage to coral reefs in Escoda (Sabina) Shoal, where numerous Chinese maritime militia vessels have been spotted operating illegally.

He emphasized that this destruction affects not only the Philippines but the entire world because the fish species breeding in these reefs are harvested by fishermen from various nations, including the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, and China. Therefore, protecting these coral reefs is in the best interest of the global community.

Zubiri revealed that the Senate is collaborating with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to establish marine ranger stations in key coastal areas nationwide to safeguard the country’s marine resources in the WPS. He has also requested a budget allocation of P600 million for this initiative, emphasizing the critical need for it.

Furthermore, Zubiri pledged to advocate for larger allocations in the 2024 national budget for the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine Navy to acquire additional patrol boats and equipment. Under the proposed P5.768-trillion 2024 national budget, the PCG is set to receive P24.014 billion, a nearly 10 percent increase from its current budget, while the Navy’s budget will increase to P40.97 billion from its current allocation of P34.98 billion. (AI/MNM)