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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

DOJ plans to file environment case vs China early next year

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The Department of Justice (DOJ) said Thursday it is planning to file early next year an environmental case that would make China accountable for the destruction of marine resources in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

This after legal experts on WPS issues met at the Department of Justice (DOJ) to discuss how the government can further strengthen the case that it is preparing to file.

“We were encouraged to pursue what we think is a good case to pursue on behalf of not only of the Filipino people but also the rest of humanity,” Remulla said at a press briefing.

Remulla assured the public that concerned government agencies have already gathered enough evidence, including satellite images of the destruction of the marine environment in the WPS, to support the filing of a case.

“We have documented this. We have evidence. It’s just a matter of organizing the evidence and showing it to the proper tribunal. That’s the most important, that we file a case before an international tribunal about the environmental damage caused by China,” he said.

Present during the meeting were renowned environmental lawyer Tony Oposa, former Supreme Court Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza, Department of Transportation Assistant Secretary Julius Yano, and Deputy Chief of Staff Commodore Jay Tariela of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

Earlier, Remulla said the country is keen on bringing the case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration which could look into China’s alleged illegal harvesting of corals and destruction of reefs in WPS.

In 2016, the Hague-based international tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines in its arbitration case against China over the South China Sea (SCS).

The PCA declared as invalid China’s nine-dash line claim over the disputed waters.

However, China did not participate in the arbitration proceedings before the PCA and has refused to recognize its ruling on the SCS

“We will work on this. Hopefully, by January or February next year, or at the latest, March, we will be able to launch the case,” Remulla said.

He said the DOJ is also coordinating with the Philippine Coast Guard, cinematographers and scientists to show the diversity and the damage brought by the Chinese in the WPS over the years.

“To further strengthen the case, plans are in motion to dispatch PCG vessels to the WPS. The objective is to meticulously document the environmental damage attributable to the activities of the PRC (People’s Republic of China),” the DOJ said.

Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra has also said his office is reviewing all incidents in the WPS since the 2016 arbitral award to collect evidence to support a possible case against China.

“The OSG will gather information on all incidents at the WPS since the first arbitral award in 2016, including the most recent ones involving reef destruction and floating barriers. We need solid evidence that will stand up in any tribunal,” Guevarra said.

Aside from the damage to the marine ecosystem, Remulla said the construction of “artificial islands” by China in the WPS will also be raised in the case.

“We will include in our case the construction of artificial islands in the area. It is one of the case that we will be filing,” he said.

When asked about the possibility that China will just ignore any ruling on the case like in 2016, Remulla said, “World opinion is very important. It’s something we’re addressing to the rest of the world, that these people cannot respect the environment, these people cannot respect rules, why should we respect them?”

“It’s like a shame campaign for the world to see. If they are doing this to us, then we will show to the world what they are doing in the area,” he added.

‘Sea of Asia’

In the same briefing, Remulla proposed the renaming of the WPS or SCS as “Sea of Asia”  to gather support from the international community in the country’s bid to protect the marine environment.

He said the proposal is a “strategic” move that aims to broaden the appeal and relevance of the case to the international community, “emphasizing that this sea, irrespective of territorial disputes, stands as a shared treasure for all of Asia and the world beyond.”

“It’s a matter of nomenclature because when you say WPS or SCS we’re referring to the same body of water. So we might as well call it the Sea of Asia. That is the biggest body of water here. It has the biggest biodiversity in the whole world. So, maybe the better universal term is Sea of Asia. But it’s a suggestion that we are putting forward,” the DOJ secretary said.

The DOJ further said the suggested term will put the spotlight on China by focusing on the more pressing issue of environmental degradation and destruction by China of the said waterway.

“The terminology serves as a focal point to draw attention to the PRC’s environmental transgressions in the waters around Asia, urging the rest of the region, as well as the global community to unite against these harmful actions and recognize our shared responsibility to protect and sustain it,” he added.

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