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Suing China for coral damage will reverse diplomatic gains, entail legal expenses – Roque

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Malacañang on Wednesday said there was no need to file a new case against China over the destruction of coral reefs at the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the disputed West Philippine Sea.

“Filing a new case against China will reverse our diplomatic gains, not to mention the cost it entails,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press statement.

“We can, therefore, discuss the issue of destroyed coral reefs in Scarborough Shoal as this forms part of the area of maritime environmental protection instead of filing a new case,” he added.

Roque made this reaction after Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio suggested to sue China for the destruction of the coral reefs by Chinese fishermen while harvesting giant clams.

Roque said the Philippines can address the issue on the destruction of coral reefs through the existing Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) with China.

He said the BCM has resulted in productive exchanges “in views on how to boost cooperation on areas which include maritime environmental protection.”

A report by GMA News on June 11 showed that Chinese fishermen have destroyed coral reefs while harvesting giant clams from Scarborough Shoal.

“We have had continuous discussions on environmental issues with China and both countries are committed to protecting and preserving the environment and to deal strictly with those who do not abide by relevant regulations,” Roque explained.

He said the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte believes that diplomacy is still the best way to address the concerns of both countries.

“We are a witness to how our friendly consultation and negotiation with China yielded positive results,” Roque said.

In 2013, the Philippines, under the administration of former president Benigno Aquino III, filed an arbitration case before the United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) to protest China’s nine-dash line map that covers almost the entire South China Sea.

The Aquino government’s action had strained Philippine-Chinese relations with China pushing Filipino fishermen out of Scarborough Shoal.

In July 2016, the PCA ruled in favor of the Philippines but China refused to recognize the verdict, prompting Duterte to temporarily shelve the decision to settle the dispute through friendly and peaceful dialogues.

Duterte’s move had resulted in renewed relations between the two countries, particularly in trade and investment and people-to-people exchanges. (PNA)