Open the Google search engine on the threats faced by Philippine corals and you will find the prominent answers of environmental NGOS. We quote a report from climatehotmjap.org: “Unsustainable practices such as blast fishing and cyanide fishing are thought to be the largest contributors to reef degradation. Climate change is increasing both the temperature and the acidity of the ocean. Rising temperatures increase the risk of coral bleaching.”
Filipino and other fishermen’s blast and cyanide fishing.
Blast fishing and cyanide fishing are practices of many subsistence Filipino fishermen desperate for sizeable catches to sustain family incomes severely depleted by decades of increasing poverty, poverty that the Philippine government has not been able to alleviate. Nor has the Philippine Coast Guard has been able to stop the practice of illegal and deleterious fishing practices.
Illegal and harmful fishing is a problem that is many decades old. One 2018 New York Times article, entitled “In the Philippines, Dynamite Fishing Decimates Entire Ocean Food Chains” reports:
“New York Times journalist embedded with dynamite fishermen in Bohol who gave exclusive access on the condition that we not use their names or the names of the islands where they live…. With dynamite fishing he can come back with 20 pounds and sometimes as much as 45 pounds, if he lucks out with a large jack or grouper…
“Gloria Ramos, vice president of Oceana Philippines, a nongovernmental organization for ocean conservation, agreed that the new laws were strong but said they were not being properly implemented because of the influence the commercial fishing industry has over government officials.. Despite signs that Philippine fisheries are collapsing, Mr. Ramos said, ‘there is no sense of urgency’.”
Today there is even less sense of urgency as the GOP, the PCG and the AFP have a ready scapegoat, i.e., the imaginary monster of the “Chinese maritime militia”, which are neither military nor police entities but simply civilian fishing ships. Now, even the little PCG and maybe even the BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) don’t have to spend as much time policing the illegal fishermen anymore.
Ocean warming and acidification.
Cyanide fishing is even more devastating than dynamite fishing, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) who asserts that “A square meter of reef is destroyed for every live fish caught using cyanide”, quoting from biologist Sam Mamauag of the International Marinelife Alliance (IMA). Pointing out that the number of fish caught using cyanide has increased massively, it further adds:
“’Look at the places where live reef fishing started a decade ago. They have all been fished out now,’ says Joe Padilla of WWF-Philippines… ‘The traders and the migrant fishermen just scoop it all up and move on. We have cut our fish stocks by 90% in the last 50 years,’ adds WWF-Philippines president Lory Tan. ‘What will we do in 30 years, when the fish are gone and our population will be more than 100 million?’”.
A more recent report of Henrylito Tacio of the Manila Bulletin quoted, “’Cyanide fishing may not be as rampant as in the 1970s and 1980s, it is still being done in the Philippines,’ according to Dr. Alan T. White, who used to be the chief of party of the Coastal Resource Management Project in Central Visayas. Dr. White currently works part time on selected Asian marine conservation projects for Nature Conservancy and as independent consultant.’”
Another major and growing factor in the depletion of coral populations in the South China Sea is Climate Change. As the National Ocean Service of the NOAA reports:
“Climate change is the greatest global threat to coral reef ecosystems… As temperatures rise, mass coral bleaching events and infectious disease outbreaks are becoming more frequent… carbon dioxide absorbed into the ocean from the atmosphere has already begun to reduce calcification rates in reef-building … This process is called ocean acidification.”
The prevarications of the AFP and MSM.
On September 6 and 7, the media in the Philippines reported “Corals in WPS gone after China swarming”, citing Vice Admiral Albert Carlos, head of the WesCom of the AFP, on the alleged “swarming” of Chinese fishing boats that the AFP call “Chinese maritime militia vessels.”. The chorus of mainstream media went to work with the Amboy (American boys) talking heads about the supposed “harvesting of corals” by the “Chinese maritime militia.”
Instead of being harvested, it is entirely likely that corals in the Iroquis (Rozul) Reef had already disappeared long ago because of the multi-decade long problem with illegal fishing methods used in the South China Sea., But the history and real reason for the decimation of coral in the SCS doesn’t matter; the AFP is only concerned about feeding an anti-China story to media in accordance with U.S. propaganda diktats.
Superficially-informed Filipinos ,who consciously or subconsciously swallow the headlines, jump to the conclusion that the “Chinese maritime militia” and its “swarms” are culprits in an environmental problem that was created and has been ongoing over a long period of time by many different forces, including the derelict GOP, the PCG and poachers of various nationalities, including Vietnamese and Chinese coral harvesters.
Why are the AFP and the PCG targeting the “Chinese maritime militia” for black propaganda? First, this is what U.S. naval analysts have seen to be China’s first line of defense against the maritime hybrid warfare employed by the U.S. against China’s exercise of sovereignty over the SCS. An overwhelming number of Chinese fishing vessels are serving as a blocking force against intrusion and offense of U.S. naval actions and its allies, like the PCG or AFP.
China’s Great Wall of Civilian Maritime Vessels.
From my layman’s perspective, the fleets of Chinese civilian fishing boats are patriotic volunteers ready to be called upon to coordinate with the civilian Chinese Coast Guard to defend China’s territory at sea when needed. Together, they serve as a Great Wall of Civilian Ships in the South China Sea when Chinese territory is confronted with any challenge that is short of an armed threat.
The AFP recently tried to raise a similar maritime civilian volunteer force to back up the Bongbong Marcos, Jr. government’s US-backed challenges at the Second Thomas Shoal. This was reported by the August headlines of ABS-CBN “PH developing militia fleet in WPS: AFP chief” and the Inquirer, “AFP chief: Gov’t plans to deploy naval reservists to counter Chinese maritime militia in the WPS.”
One day later, however, the Palawan News reported, “Kalayaan fishermen reject AFP reservist plan.” And GMA News Online’s headline blared, “Pag-asa fishers group nixes AFP plan to train them to become reservists.” The fight was lost before it even started. The fishermen said, “We’d rather that we report incidents. We will not allow that… We will not carry firearms.”
Why are Chinese fishermen so willing to stand by their government in defending their territorial sovereignty? The Chinese government’s attention and care for its people, as seen in the upliftment of its 1.5-billion population is palpable proof for its citizens. The facts are: Filipino fishermen don’t get harassed by the Chinese Coast Guard; nor do they see the GOP as a great friend either.
China’s government and fishermen are also known for the environmental and fisheries conservation practice and discipline in the annual Chinese government-led Fishing Moratorium over the South China Sea they observe with discipline, leaving the other stakeholders in the SCS like Vietnamese and Filipino fishermen to continue fishing without hindrance.
China’s response to the slander.
Global Times ,China’s top English language newspaper, reported on the prevarications of the AFP:
“’The aim behind the Philippines’ hype about China’s “coral harvesting” is to brand China as an environmental destroyer, Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Sunday.
“’China is a responsible major country that has always been steadfast in safeguarding the marine environment through various means. The Philippines’ malicious attacks on China are baseless, and it is acting similar to the saying “the guilty party (is) filing the suit first,”’ Song said.”
China continues to be patient with its little Asian neighbor as the latter struggles to find its moorings even as the U.S. re-establishes neocolonial control over the Philippines. In response to the Philippines’ provocations, China is resolved to “make dual preparations”: one, to sign quickly the Code of Conduct “to constrain all parties involved” and two, “promote its comprehensive national strength, including military capabilities, to better confront challenges from countries outside the region…”
Under Bongbong Marcos, Jr., the Philippines has been reduced to a sidekick of the U.S. while its AFP serves an umbrella carrier for the U.S. lady ambassador. This is unlike the time of President Duterte when the country was a truly independent and impactful geopolitical factor. China looks above the present situation and sees a post-Bongbong Marcos, Jr. era, which may be sooner than anybody thinks. Meanwhile, China continues to support the Philippine economy, hosting its producers and traders at the CAEXpo 2023, the China-Asean Expo that features food and beverage manufacturers, home and lifestyle enterprises, baking and travel companies. The Philippines also enjoyed the spotlight at the CIFTIS (China International Fair for Trade in Services) 2023 during the first week of September.