Top Philippine judge urges China face court over reef destruction

June 14, 2018 - 9:20 AM
Acting Supreme Court Chief Justice Antonio Carpio noted that the Philippine government should seek arbitration and compensation from China for the coral reef destruction in Scarborough Shoal. (PhilStar/File photo)

MANILA — A Philippine Supreme Court judge has called on the government to bring China to court for violating the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea with the destruction of coral reefs in a disputed part of the South China Sea.

Acting Supreme Court Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte’s business-focused rapprochement with China, said the government should seek arbitration and compensation from China.

It was not clear what prompted Carpio’s call but broadcaster GMA News reported on Monday that Chinese fishermen had harvested giant clams and destroyed coral reefs in Scarborough Shoal, a rocky outcrop, 200 km (124 miles) from the Philippines, claimed by both China and the Philippines.

“The Philippines should demand damages from China for the destruction of the coral reefs by Chinese fishermen in harvesting the giant clams”, Carpio said in a statement dated Tuesday.

In this photo, scuba divers look at colorful coral reefs below the ocean. (Philstar/File photo)

The Philippine national security adviser confirmed the report about the Chinese activity on the resource-rich shoal which China seized in 2012. It then blocked Philippine fishermen from approaching the area.

Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said the government would rather discuss the coral destruction with China than file a case as that would only “reverse our diplomatic gains”.

Relations between China and the Philippines have improved markedly under Duterte, while his ties with the United States have been strained, after he objected to U.S. concerns about rights violations in the course of his campaign against drugs.

China allowed Philippine fishermen back onto the shoal in late 2016.

China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Carpio’s call.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague rejected China’s extensive claims in the South China and ruled that Scarborough Shoal was a traditional fishing ground of Filipino, Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen.

China refused to recognize the ruling. — Reporting by Karen Lema; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Robert Birsel