Gov't can seize China-owned assets to settle ₱200B marine damage in West PH Sea – Del Rosario

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 8) – The Philippines can make China pay for the estimated ₱231 billion ecological damage in the West Philippine Sea by seizing Beijing-owned assets in Manila, a former top diplomat said Monday.

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario explained that the Philippine government should demand reparations from China for what he said were its illegal construction and fishing activities in the area, which have resulted in irreparable damage to marine life and robbed local fishermen of livelihood.

"China has been causing great damage in terms of monetary losses to the Philippines through its maritime designs and its ability to move forward its strategy to control South China Sea," he said during the Atin ang Pinas webinar hosted by Senator Risa Hontiveros.

"China is enormously accountable and owes Filipinos billions of pesos for its continuing abuses in the WPS... This sums up to more than ₱231 billion since the start of 2014. China refuses to pay its debt to the Filipino people," he added.

A study done by the University of the Philippines' Marine Science Institute pegged coral reef damage at ₱33 billion a year, which Del Rosario described as a "conservative" estimate.

"How do we make China pay? Philippine authorities have the right to seize assets and properties owned by the Chinese state here in the Philippines to satisfy China's debt to the Filipino people," he said.

Del Rosario said the amount may be recovered by seizing Chinese assets like China's stake in the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines – a hotly-contested issue amid concerns that the Chinese may interfere with the local electricity transmission especially during crucial times like the conduct of elections.

The State Grid Corporation of China owns 40 percent of NGCP. Beijing's equity investments in third telco player Dito Telecommunity through China Telecom may also be forfeited as part of the payment.

"China can be held accountable here in our country and the Philippine government needs to stand up for our legitimate rights," Del Rosario added.

Construction works continued on islands claimed by the Philippines, with China putting up new research stations at the Kagitingan and Zamora Reefs in March. The research center's base is located at Panganiban Reef, which China calls Meiji Reef. Illegal fishing activities have also been reported, with Chinese vessels bullying Filipino fishermen and taking their haul from these waters.

Hontiveros earlier demanded that China pay over ₱200 billion in damages to Manila, which she said must be used to boost the local COVID-19 response – a disease which also originated in the Chinese mainland.

READ: Chinese Embassy rejects call for China to pay for PH's COVID-19 response

She also emphasized the need to give justice to the 22 fishermen aboard F/B Gem-Ver who were hit by a Chinese boat and abandoned at sea exactly a year ago, only to be rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled on July 12, 2016 that China violated its obligations under international law to protect and preserve the marine environment by its massive reclamation work and other island-building activities in Kagitingan Cross Reef and other contested areas in the Spratly group of islands.

Del Rosario also expressed confidence about winning the crimes against humanity complaint which he and ex-Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales filed against Chinese President Xi Jinping for his "atrocious actions" in the South China Sea, alleging that the crimes were committed within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

Also charged are Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and former Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua over the near-permanent environmental destruction in the West Philippine Sea.