The Philippines is preparing to file an environmental case against China over the “destruction of marine habitat” at the West Philippine Sea early next year, the Department of Justice said.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said he hopes to file the case by January or in March at the latest.
Remulla said the decision to file a case was reached during his meeting with Filipino legal experts on the action the government should take over the “environmental destruction” being committed by China in the country’s exclusive economic zone, particularly in the WPS.
“We were encouraged to pursue what we think is a good case on behalf not only of the Filipino people but also of the rest of humanity,” Remulla said.
“We believe it is ripe for the world to know the loss we are suffering because of what China is doing in our sea, and this action could benefit the entire world,” he added.
Remulla said part of the evidence gathered to back the case was the documentation and videos taken by the Philippine Coast Guard.
Remulla said among the legal experts he met were retired Supreme Court Associate Justice and former Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza and environmental lawyer and activist Antonio Oposa Jr., president of the Law of Nature Foundation.
“We sought advice from legal experts like them on how we can file a case before an international tribunal concerning our environmental problem,” he said.
Solicitor General Medardo Guevarra said his office is also 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.
When asked of the possibility that China will just ignore any ruling on the case like in 2016, Remula 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.
Remulla also proposed the renaming of the WPS or the South China Sea as “Sea of Asia” in a bid to gather support from the international community.
He said the proposal was 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. It’s a suggestion that we are putting forward,” he said.
“The terminology serves as a focal point to draw attention to China’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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