Chinese clam gatherers prompt Palace action

MALACAÑANG yesterday called on the military to validate the report that China’s clam harvesting fleets were spotted in the disputed South China Sea over the last six months.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Command should look into the report by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative-Center for Strategic and International Studies (AMTI-CSIS), an American think tank.

“This is the first time I’ve heard of that and I suppose the Western Command should make a validation of that and then refer it to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs for whatever action the department may take on that issue,” Panelo said at a news conference.

Panelo also said it was up to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) whether to file a diplomatic protest on the matter.

In its May 20 report, the AMTI-CIS released new satellite images of the clam harvesting fleets that have been operating at the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal and throughout the Paracels, including at Bombay Reef since last year.

“These fleets, which typically include dozens of small fishing vessels accompanied by a handful of larger ‘motherships,’ destroy vast swaths of coral reef in order to extract endangered giant clams,” AMTI-CSIS said in its report.

Malacañang has taken exception to China’s extraction of giant clams at Scarborough Shoal, calling it an “affront” to the country’s sovereignty.

In April, the Palace said that the Philippine government filed a diplomatic protest and will be taking legal action against China over the incident as announced by Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

Panelo, meanwhile, left it to the DFA to respond to China’s imposition of an annual fishing moratorium in the South China Sea, which started on May 1 and will end on August 16.

He said the Philippines will assert its sovereignty over some features in the resource-rich sea but he could not say whether the unilateral fishing ban is an assault on the country’s sovereignty.

“Draw your conclusion if it’s against the sovereignty,” he told reporters.

Vietnam has condemned Beijing’s fishing ban which also covers areas claimed by Hanoi and Manila.

China does not recognize the 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated Beijing’s excessive claims to the South China Sea and spelled out the Philippines’ maritime entitlements.

Aside from the Philippines, China and Vietnam, other claimants include Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia.