By Priam Nepomuceno

Damaged and empty giant clams in Bajo de Masinloc as documented by the Philippine Coast Guard (Photo courtesy of PCG)

MANILA – An official of the National Security Council (NSC) on Tuesday challenged China to allow third-party inspectors to check the current environmental condition of Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal).

“In the face of China’s repeated denials, we call on China to open up Bajo de Masinloc to international inspection and we also call on third-party inspectors from relevant United Nations bodies or respected environmental organizations to determine the true situation therein in order to protect the environment,” NSC Assistant Director General and spokesperson Jonathan Malaya said in a statement.

Malaya’s statement came after the Chinese Foreign Ministry denied reports of environmental destruction in the Bajo de Masinloc, despite “incontrovertible proof” presented by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Monday.

“The PCG has presented clear and convincing evidence that since 2016, it has observed Chinese fishermen transporting large quantities of giant clams, sea turtles, puffer fishes, stingrays, top shells, eels, and other marine animals. Chinese entities have been continuously engaged in large-scale harvesting of endangered species, unlawfully exploiting the vulnerable species with wild abandon,” the NSC spokesperson said.

Giant clams, among others, are declared protected species under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Malaya also maintained that Beijing has no legal rights over Bajo de Masinloc and all of its expansive claims over the entire South China Sea have been invalidated and nullified by the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling.

Aside from this, the arbitral ruling also noted that Chinese authorities were aware that their fishers were harvesting endangered sea turtles, coral, and giant clams on a substantial scale in the South China Sea, using methods that inflict severe damage on the coral reef environment and had not fulfilled their obligations to stop such activities. (PNA)