Not ‘Waste Philippine Sea’: Senators call for action on human waste disposal in WPS

July 13, 2021 - 8:22 PM
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Chinese vessels, believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, are seen at Whitsun Reef, South China Sea on March 27, 2021. (Picture taken March 27, 2021. Philippine Coast Guard/National Task Force-West Philippine Sea/Handout via Reuters)

A number of senators on Tuesday denounced the reported human waste disposal in the West Philippines Sea (WPS).

The hundreds of ships that are anchored in the Spratly Islands in the WPS are dumping raw sewage into the reefs they are occupying, according to a report on July 12.

RELATED STORY: Sewage from anchored ships laying waste to coral reefs in Spratlys — report

Simularity, a US-based geospatial imagery and data analysis company, released satellite images over the last five years showing how human waste, sewage, and wastewater have accumulated and created chlorophyll-a blooms in Union Banks, located entirely within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

“Chlorophyll-a concentration is a measure of phytoplankton. Excess phytoplankton that cannot be consumed by the reef inhabitants dies off and sinks to the sea floor, where it is consumed by bacteria that would create a ‘dead zone’ if they become available to fish,” the report said.

“Ships and shits” satellite images of Union Banks as of June 17, 2021. (Simularity/Released)

As of June 17, at least 236 ships were spotted in Union Banks, said Liz Derr, co-founder and chief executive officer of Simularity.

Although Derr said she was “not able to verify that these ships are from China based on satellite imagery and data,” yet she pointed out that “the Philippine Coast Guard has taken numerous photos of these ships since March, and they are clearly Chinese.”

The report also noted that damaging the reefs can lead to a “catastrophe of epic proportions” that is irreversible. The reefs will also take decades to recover even with active mitigation.

In a statement on Tuesday, Sen. Ralph Recto said that the incident means “It is not only reclaiming land in the West Philippine Sea; by its actions, 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,” the statement read.

Opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan also condemned the reported dumping of waste.

He called on the Chinese government to stop such activities and leave the area.

“Hindi na nga sa inyo, sisirain niyo pa. Umalis kayo riyan,” Pangilinan said.

“Tapunan ng basura ang trato sa ating bansa. Ganito ang isinusukli ng China sa mga sunud-sunuran, tikom ang bibig, at kaduwagan. Wala tayong utang na loob sa mga umaagaw sa ating yamang dagat at karagatan, sa mga inaalipusta ang ating mga mangingisda,” he added.

In asserting the Philippines’ rights, Pangilinan stressed the potential of the country’s exclusive economic zone in the WPS as energy source that could shield Filipinos from oil price spikes.

“Hindi lang sa pagkain mayaman ang West Philippine Sea, mayamin din ito sa gas. The West Philippine Sea could be the answer to the attainment of our energy security and sustainability so that our people will no longer have to suffer from high oil prices,” Pangilinan said.

“Kaya naman kailangang igiit ang ating karapatan sa ating exclusive economic zone,” he added.

Like Pangilinan, Sen. Grace Poe slammed the act of dumping waste it is “infuriating” and “disgusting.”

“Isa itong tahasang insulto hindi lamang sa ating soberanya kung hindi maging sa lahat ng umaasa ng kabuhayan mula sa karagatan. Hindi ito gagawin ng kahit sinong matinong kapitbahay. This adds insult to injury. We are not the dumping site of any country, let alone by a nation laying claims on our territory,” Poe said.

“China treating us as its toilet is a clear violation of both international and local environmental laws. The Stockholm Declaration 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 added.

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

She cited the local laws like the Republic Act 9275 or the Clean Water Act, and R.A. 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 which impose penalties on such acts.

Other senators urged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to investigate and file charges against the perpetrators.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros cited that until now there is no baseline report from DENR on how much has natural resources has been damaged and lost in the WPS.

“Noong April 2020, naghain ako ng resolusyon na naglalayong magbayad ang Tsina ng higit sa P200 billion dahil sa pagkasira niya ng ating mga marine resources sa WPS. Na-kwenta din ng opisina ko base sa mga iba’t ibang report na halos P800 billion na ang utang ng Tsina dahil sa pagwasak niya sa ating reef ecosystems at pati narin sa mga nawawalang fish stock sa ating karagatan,” Hontiveros said.

“Mas mainam kung ang DENR mismo may opisyal na report na nagkukwenta kung ano na nga ba ang dapat bayarang danyos ng Tsina. Ito ang pwedeng magsilbing pamantayan ng ating pagsingil sa patuloy na pagmamalabis ng Tsina,” he added.

DENR Undersecretary Benny Antiporda, on the other hand, said the DENR would still verify the reports.

“On the issue of waste disposal on the West Philippine Sea, we will coordinate with the PCG (Philippine Coast Guard) and DND (Department of National Defense) first on the authenticity of the allegation,” Antporda said in a message to reporters.

After that, Antiporda said the DENR will be seeking for the attention of the Chinese government thru the Department of Foreign Affairs.

“We will also validate if indeed these are Chinese vessels,” he said.

In a news update on Tuesday evening, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana slammed Simularity for its report on human waste, saying that its conclusion was only based on satellite photos. —With Rosette Adel