Palace: Administration not lax with environmental concerns in West Philippine Sea

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 4) — The Duterte administration believes that it has protected the marine ecosystem in the West Philippine Sea.

This comes at the heels of the Supreme Court issuing a writ of kalikasan, ordering the executive branch to protect the maritime environment in areas that are currently being claimed by China.

READ: SC sides with fishermen, orders gov't to protect West Philippine Sea

"We stress that the essence of such writ of kalikasan, which is the protection of the marine ecosystem of the West Philippine Sea is already a top concern and agenda of the government," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement Saturday night.

He addressed criticism on the alleged "inaction" of the administration on protecting the environment, which was fueled by recent reports of Chinese fishermen harvesting endangered giant clams in Scarborough Shoal.

"We take exception, however, to the contention that there has been inaction on the part of the Administration with regard to the environmental concerns brought about by Chinese activities in the contested areas. Our coast guards as well as other government agencies are performing their task in securing the subject of the writ," Panelo said.

He also said that the "unwanted incursions" were made in contested areas, as China has a blanket historical claim on the South China Sea, and that the Philippines should avoid provoking violence form the much larger nation.

"While we promptly made a series of diplomatic protests using the mechanism of diplomacy to assert our rights, we also undertook protective measures even as we are consciously cautious not to perform provocative acts that may trigger armed hostilities between the contesting countries which may risk the lives of our countrymen and cost irreparable damage to our land," Panelo said.

In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Abritration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines versus China, recognizing the Philippines' sovereign rights within its 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone.

However China has built artificial islands, prohibited Filipino fishermen from fishing and interfered in oil exploration activities in the area.

The tribunal also did not rule on which country has sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal - located around 120 nautical miles off Zambales province - but said China failed to respect traditional fishing rights of Filipino fishermen there. China has refused to recognize the landmark ruling.

President Rodrigo Duterte continues to foster warmer ties with China, having returned from a Beijing trip last week.

During the visit, Duterte said that the Philippines is China's ally in the South China Sea.

READ: Palace — West Philippine Sea discussed during Duterte's visit to China