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DENR, DND, DFA To Look Into China’s Reported Human Waste Dumping In Spratlys

DENR, DND, DFA To Look Into China’s Reported Human Waste Dumping In Spratlys
Protesters hold slogans during a rally in front of the Chinese consulate in Makati City on July 12, 2021. The demonstration was held to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the arbitral ruling in The Hague granting the Philippines the exclusive right to fish within its exclusive economic zone or EEZ. Photo by AP

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of National Defense (DND), Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said they would look into reports of China’s alleged dumping of feces and other wastes in the West Philippine Sea.

Expressing deep concern,  DENR Undersecretary for solid waste management and local government unit concerns Benny Antiporda assured the public on Tuesday, July 13, they would coordinate with the Philippine Coast Guard and the DND to get a clearer picture.

“We will need to verify if the allegation is true. We will also seek the attention of the Chinese government through the Department of Foreign Affairs on the matter,” Antiporda said.

He added that they also intend to validate if Chinese vessels were indeed the ones involved in the incident.

“As long as it affects or damages the environment, we can investigate and look into it,” Antiporda said.

Also on Tuesday, DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana belied reports that China’s ships have been dumping human waste in Philippine waters.

“The reported dumping of waste in the WPS is not true. That photo is from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia,” Lorenzana told reporters.

“We have taken note of the news circulating online about the alleged dumping of wastes in the South China Sea. However, the photo of a ship seen dumping waste accompanying the report was found to have been taken in the Australian Great Barrier Reef in 2014. Therefore this intent to mislead has cast great doubt on the accurateness of the Simularity report,” he said in a statement.

“We also question the conclusion reached by Simularity from just looking at satellite photos. Be that as it may, I have directed the Western Command who has jurisdiction over the WPS to verify and investigate,” he added.

Lorenzana stressed “we consider such irresponsible acts, if true, to be gravely detrimental to the marine ecology in the area.”

“Despite conflicting claims and interests by states in the South China Sea, all nations must be responsible stewards of our natural resources and environment,” he said.

DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. also branded the report as fake on Tuesday, but DFA Assistant Secretary Eduardo Menez stated on Monday, July 12, the findings would have to be assessed and validated by Philippine authorities before a decision on whether to lodge a protest against China could be made.

 On Monday, a US-based expert revealed that swarms of Chinese vessels have dumped human waste and wastewater for years in the Spratlys, a disputed area of the South China Sea, causing algae blooms that have damaged coral reefs and threatened fish in an unfolding catastrophe.

Satellite images over the last five years show how human waste, sewage and wastewater have accumulated and caused algae in a cluster of reefs in the Spratlys region where hundreds of Chinese fishing ships have anchored in batches, said Liz Derr, who heads Simularity Inc., a software company creating artificial intelligence technologies for satellite imagery analysis.

At least 236 ships were spotted in the atoll, internationally known as Union Banks, on June 17 alone, she said at a Philippine online news forum on China’s actions in the South China Sea, which Beijing has claimed virtually in its entirety. The forum was hosted by the Stratbase ADR Institute on the fitth anniversary of the Philippines’ landmark arbitral tribunal victory against China.

“When the ships don’t move, the poop piles up,” Derr said. “The hundreds of ships that are anchored in the Spratlys are dumping raw sewage onto the reefs they are occupying.”

Chinese officials did not immediately react to Derr’s assessment of the environmental damage, but have said in the past that they have taken steps to protect the fisheries stock and the environment in the South China Sea. Aside from the Chinese, Vietnamese forces have also occupied some coral outcrops in Union Banks, which is also claimed by the Philippines, although it has no presence in the vast atoll.

“This is a catastrophe of epic proportions and we are close to the point of no return,” Derr said.

She warned that schools of fish, including migratory tuna, breed in the reefs that are being damaged and could cause fish stocks to considerably decline in an offshore area that is a key regional food source.

“China, stop shitting on the Spratlys,” Derr said.

Separately, China’s military said it chased a US warship out of another disputed area of the South China Sea on Monday after Washington warned an attack on the Philippines might activate a mutual defense treaty.

Beijing affirmed its claims to portions of the sea that also are claimed by Southeast Asia governments. It rejected the Biden administration’s declaration of support Sunday for an 2016 international tribunal ruling in favor of the Philippines that threw out most of them.

China is increasingly assertive about pressing its territorial claims, which are fueling tension with neighbors including Japan, India, Vietnam and the Philippines.

China’s People’s Liberation Army said it sent ships and planes after the U.S.S. Benfold entered waters claimed by Beijing around the Paracel Islands.

In March, Philippine authorities spotted more than 200 Chinese fishing vessels at Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef, in the northeastern periphery of Union Banks, and demanded that China withdraw them from the area. China ignored the demand for weeks, while continuing to assert the reef is its own territory. 

The Philippines argued that Julian Felipe Reef lies well within an internationally recognized stretch of waters where it has exclusive rights to exploit fisheries, oil, gas and other sea resources. It cited the international tribunal’s 2016 ruling that invalidated China’s vast claims to the waterway on historical grounds and unanimously upheld the Philippines’ sovereign rights to the so-called exclusive economic zone.

A few hundred protesters held a noisy rally Monday in front of the Chinese consulate in Makati City to mark the fifth anniversary of the ruling, which China ignored and continues to defy. The protesters lashed out at President Duterte, who has nurtured closer ties with Beijing, for refusing to aggressively demand that China comply with the landmark ruling.

Investigate the matter

Senators urged DENR to immediately investigate reports of dumping of human excrement, sewage and wastewater in the Spratlys.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto lamented that China is not only reclaiming land in the WPS, it is also renaming it as the “Waste Philippine Sea.”

“By turning reefs into toilets, two man-made things are now visible from space: the Great Wall of China on land, and the Great Wastes of China at sea,” Recto said.

Recto noted that ships are prohibited by domestic and international laws from dumping its refuse and trash into oceans, and under Philippine laws, such are environmental crimes that carry a jail term and a hefty fine.

“But even without these laws, decent human behavior commands civilized men not to turn rich fishing grounds into a cesspool of feces,” he said.

He said if the DENR finds basis in the basis in the allegations, it should file charges in court.

“Government cannot fine sidewalk litterers while turning a blind eye to this.  DFA should also study filing a diplomatic protest,” Recto said.

Sen. Francis Tolentino also suggested that the DENR conduct an investigation soonest as the area is part of the municipality of Kalayaan of Palawan to determine the accuracy of the reports.

“Thereafter, if it is determined that state actors or state-sponsored activities were involved, the Department of Foreign Affairs should take the appropriate action by invoking the Convention on Biological Diversity , as the anthropogenic pressures on the area will impact on the coral reefs and other vulnerable ecosystems which the international community aims to protect,” Tolentino said.

Sen. Grace Poe said it was “infuriating and disgusting” to hear the reports as the alleged dumping of human excrement was a “blatant insult not only against our sovereignty but also against all those who depend on their livelihood from the sea.”

“This is not something a decent neighbor would do. This adds insult to injury. We are not the dumping site of any country, let alone by a nation laying claims on our territory. China treating us as its toilet is a clear violation of both international and local environmental laws,” Poe said.

The senator cited the Stockholm Declaration, which requires all states to "take all possible steps to prevent pollution of the seas by substances that are liable to create hazards to human health, to harm living resources and marine life, to damage amenities or to interfere with other legitimate uses of the sea."

She also cited Philippine laws like Republic Act No. 9275 or the Clean Water Act, and RA 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 which impose penalties on such acts.

“If the laws of men are not enough, basic laws of human decency demand that we do not submit to this debasing treatment,” Poe said.

She said the act of dumping wastes in the area clearly shows that “the dumper knows the West Philippine Sea is not theirs, for otherwise they would have respected the ecological value of the rich fishing ground.”

“We can only hope that this comes as a wake-up call to the administration on the stinking reality that China gives no respect to international law, whether it be our territorial or environmental right,” Poe added.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan asked the Duterte administration to stop being subservient to China and its interests, and uphold and defend the national interest.

“This is how China rewards cowardice and subservience,” Pangilinan said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who chairs the Senate committee on national defense and security, asked all government and private agencies concerned to validate the report before any official action is taken on the matter.

“Because aside from being a serious and sensitive issue to resolve, it involves an Asian neighbor with whom we have at least five decades of diplomatic relations,” Lacson said.

He said he was validating a similar photo of waste dumping published in 2014 involving Australian waters, not the Philippines even as he deleted a tweet that he posted earlier Tuesday morning in relation to the waste dumping issue.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the Philippine government must be able to secure its own data and find out if such waste dumping is true so that appropriate actions could be taken. – With Paolo Romero, Pia Lee-Brago