Palace: Philippines won't file new case vs. China over destruction of coral reefs in South China Sea

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 13) — The government prefers to talk to China about the destruction of coral reefs in the South China Sea, instead of filing a new case at the international tribunal.

Malacañang made this statement Wednesday after Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio urged the government to demand damages from China for the destruction of coral reefs, which the arbitral tribunal in 2016 ruled was done by Chinese fishermen.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said "filing a new case against China will reverse our diplomatic gains, not to mention the cost it entails."

"We can therefore discuss the issue of destroyed coral reefs in Scarborough Shoal as this forms part of the area of maritime environmental protection instead of filing a new case," he added. 

Roque said Philippine and Chinese officials can discuss the matter during bilateral consultations on the South China Sea. The two countries last held talks on February 2018, agreeing to cooperate on areas of marine protection and research while following each countries' stance on territorial powers.

"The Administration believes in diplomacy and we are a witness to how our friendly consultation and negotiation with China yielded positive results," Roque said.

Carpio, who was part of the Philippine delegation to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that argued for and won the country's case against China in July 2016, said it is time to follow up on the case.

"This time the Philippines should demand damages from China for the destruction of the coral reefs by Chinese fishermen in harvesting the giant clams," Carpio said in a statement on Tuesday.

In its landmark ruling, the arbitral tribunal said Chinese authorities did not stop Chinese fishermen from harvesting endangered sea turtles, corals, and giant clams on a substantial scale in the South China Sea.

It also found that China's land reclamation and construction of artificial islands in the Spratlys severely harmed the coral reef environment.

Carpio said the Philippines was not awarded damages that time because it did not demand any. "This time the Philippines should demand damages for the economic losses of Filipino fishermen."

China has refused to acknowledge the arbitral ruling, including the awarding to the Philippines of areas that lie within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the country, which the Philippines calls West Philippine Sea. China continues to claim almost the entire South China Sea.

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly said the country cannot afford to go to war against China, but he promised to bring up the arbitral ruling with the East Asian giant during his term.