Reported Chinese waste dumping in EEZ angers lawmakers
MANILA, Philippines — True or not, a report that Chinese ships have not only been intruding into the West Philippine Sea but have also been dumping raw sewage into the waters in the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) has angered lawmakers.
“China treating us as its toilet is a clear violation of both international and local environmental laws,” Sen. Grace Poe said on Tuesday.
“We can only hope that this comes as a wake-up call to the administration on the stinking reality that China gives no respect to international law, whether it be our territorial or environmental rights,” Poe said.
The Chinese Embassy has not responded to a request for comment from the Inquirer.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Tuesday dismissed the report as “fake news” on Twitter.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the report “is not true.”
Poe was both “infuriated and disgusted” when she learned about the report and said the Philippine government must “strongly condemn” the alleged waste dumping and demand an immediate stop.
“Anything less would be unacceptable,” she said.
Expressing his contempt, Sen. Ralph Recto, the Senate President Pro-Tempore, said China now has two man-made things that are visible from space: “the Great Wall of China on land, and the Great Wastes of China at sea … in what might become the Waste Philippine Sea.”
The waste dumping was first reported by Liz Derr, cofounder and chief executive officer of the US geospatial imagery company Simularity, during an online forum on Monday to mark the fifth anniversary of the arbitral tribunal ruling that invalidated China’s sweeping claims to the South China Sea in a case filed by the Philippines in 2013.
“The hundreds of ships that are anchored there are dumping raw sewage, every day onto the reefs they are occupying,” said Derr. “When the ships don’t move, the poop piles up.”
The large amounts of nutrients in the sewage increases the concentration of chlorophyll-a, a measure of phytoplankton. Derr warned that an excess in phytoplankton would create a hypoxic “dead zone” on the sea floor that would lead to a “cascade of reef damage” that will take years to recover from.
She said satellite images over the last five years showed “visible and dramatic” damage to reefs caused by sewage effluent in some parts of the Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea.
“This is a catastrophe of epic proportions, and we are close to the point of no return. This needs to stop immediately,” she added.
Lorenzana questioned the conclusion reached by Simularity “from just looking at satellite photos.”
Even then, he directed the military’s Western Command, which is in charge of the West Philippine Sea, to “verify and investigate” the report.
Danger to ecosystem
While the dumping of sewage in open waters is often standard practice for ships, there are regulations to ensure that these discharges will not wreak havoc on marine environments, according to Deo Onda, a marine science professor at the Marine Science Institute of the University of the Philippines.
If the discharge is continuous “there will be an effect in the ecosystem,” he told the Inquirer on Tuesday.
“When you have a bloom of phytoplankton, when they die, they consume the oxygen. Therefore, it lowers the oxygen availability in the water,” he added.
In ensuring sustainability in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, Onda said it was crucial to consider the ecological connectivity of the marine ecosystems because a change in a certain area could affect fish stocks and reef health in other parts of the ocean.
“If those areas become affected, the possible eggs or larvae of coral, fish and other invertebrates [will be affected and], the supply coming from those areas may collapse,” Onda said.
“Once a reef is already degraded and we still continue polluting the area, the effect may actually expand to the other areas of the West Philippine Sea,” he added, noting that a collapse in fish stocks could adversely affect the livelihood and subsistence of those dependent on these waters.
Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas said she would call for a congressional investigation of the waste discharge.
“Is this Beijing’s disgusting toast to Duterte’s ‘piece of paper’ remark on the Hague ruling, by allowing its vessels to dump human waste on the West Philippine Sea? This is perhaps the most visually brazen mockery of our sovereignty,” Brosas said in a statement.
“Many fishermen are already having a hard time with China’s aggression in the West Philippines Sea, and now, China is making us their toilet,” Cullamat said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat, Sen. Francis Tolentino and Sen. Risa Hontiveros urged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to also look into the report.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the issue was “serious and sensitive” that it would be best to “fact-check first” before taking any official action.
Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda said the DENR would be working with the Philippine Coast Guard and the defense department to check the report.
“After that, we will be seeking the attention of the Chinese government through our Department of Foreign Affairs,” Antiporda told reporters. “We will also validate if indeed these are Chinese vessels.”
—WITH REPORTS FROM TINA G. SANTOS, JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE AND JHESSET O. ENANO
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