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‘Alarming’: Rozul Reef stripped of its corals

The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Saturday reported massive coral harvesting in Rozul Reef in the West Philippine Sea where Chinese militia vessels were seen swarming.

AFP Western Command head Vice Admiral Albert Carlos said the area was completely stripped of its corals.

“The areas where there was swarming, we have pinpointed these. And then when they left, we sent out our divers to do a water survey and we saw there were no more corals. There we only debris,” Carlos said.

Rozul Reef, also known as Iroquois Reef, lies within the country’s 200 nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf.

A map of the West Philippine Sea shows the location of Rozul Reef, also known as Iroquois Reef, which lies within the country’s 200 nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.

“This is alarming because as far as WesCom is concerned, it is our duty to protect sovereign rights for Filipinos. Our fellow countrymen should be the ones enjoying the resources in our EEZ,” he added.

The military official, however, said they are not yet officially blaming the Chinese militia vessels even if they have their own suspicions.

“It is just our suspicion for now. We are not saying they are harvesting our corals. But we suspect that somebody is harvesting our corals and that means they are violating our sovereign rights,” he said.

Last week, the AFP WesCom organized aerial patrols in the West Philippines Sea where at least 30 Chinese fishing vessels were spotted in the country’s territorial waters. Of the number, 23 Chinese vessels were located at Rozul Reef.

For his part, AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar said several countries have expressed their desire to participate in a joint patrol in the West Philippine Sea.

Aguilar said that aside from the United States, a long-term ally of the Philippines, “Japan, Australia, Malaysia, France, India, Canada, and Singapore” have also expressed their intention for a joint sail.

“We are in engagement with whoever offers to help us, whoever shares our desire, our objective to establish a rules-based international order. We are studying carefully. All the offers are on the table,” Carlos added.

Meanwhile, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian is pushing for the establishment of Philippine maritime zones to strengthen and enforce the country’s claim over the West Philippine Sea, as affirmed by a 2016 arbitral ruling invalidating China’s massive maritime claim in the region.

The senator has filed Senate Bill 2394, or The Philippine Maritime Zones Act, to clearly define the country’s maritime zones, harmonizing domestic laws on maritime territory with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The proposed measure would cover internal waters, archipelagic waters, territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and continental shelf by international law.

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