Top judge urges Philippines to take China to court over reef destruction


A Chinese flag flutters on a fishing boat while a China Coast Guard patrols at the disputed Scarborough Shoal on  April 5, 2017.
A Chinese flag flutters on a fishing boat while a China Coast Guard patrols at the disputed Scarborough Shoal on April 5, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (REUTERS) - A Philippine Supreme Court judge has called on the government to take China to court for violating the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea with the destruction of coral reefs in a disputed part of the South China Sea.

Acting Supreme Court Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte's business-focused rapprochement with China, said the government should seek arbitration and compensation from China.

It was not clear what prompted Acting Chief Justice Carpio's call, but broadcaster GMA News reported on Monday (June 11) that Chinese fishermen had harvested giant clams and destroyed coral reefs in Scarborough Shoal, a rocky outcrop, 200km from the Philippines, claimed by both China and the Philippines.

"The Philippines should demand damages from China for the destruction of the coral reefs by Chinese fishermen in harvesting the giant clams," Acting Chief Justice Carpio said in a statement dated Tuesday.

The Philippine national security adviser confirmed the report about the Chinese activity on the resource-rich shoal which China seized in 2012. It then blocked Philippine fishermen from approaching the area.

Mr Duterte's spokesman, Mr Harry Roque, said the government would rather discuss the coral destruction with China than file a case as that would only "reverse our diplomatic gains".

Relations between China and the Philippines have improved markedly under Mr Duterte, while his ties with the United States have been strained after he objected to US concerns about rights violations in the course of his campaign against drugs.

 
 
 

China allowed Philippine fishermen back onto the shoal in late 2016.

China's Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Acting Chief Justice Carpio's call.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague rejected China's extensive claims in the South China and ruled that Scarborough Shoal was a traditional fishing ground of Filipino, Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen.

China refused to recognise the ruling.