By Genalyn Kabiling
BEIJING — China is prepared to investigate the alleged illegal harvesting of giant clams by local vessels in the disputed South China Sea.
According to Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana, China even proposed a joint investigation with the Philippines, particularly the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), on the matter.
“The issue of giant clams is still a challenge. They themselves say that they are against it and they say if you find, take note of ship number and the time and they will investigate and so we are waiting for the results of that,” Sta. Romana said in a media interview at the Philippine embassy here.
“They have a proposal with BFAR, joint investigation in general. ‘Yun ang proposal they are trying to look into. It would be better,” he added.
Sta. Romana noted that China has declared as illegal the fishing of giant clams, as well as its eventual sale and manufacture of such marine resource since January 2017.
“There is an issue of accountability. If that is the case, how come is this happening? And that is an issue that we continue to discuss,” he said about the reported poaching of clams in the Panatag shoal.
“Between the statement and the reality, you need some accountability and that is why through diplomacy, that is what we try to achieve,” he added.
Sta. Romana said Chinese authorities have already cited specific cases of poaching of marine resources in the country’s territory in the past. He assured that they will continue to work closely with the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and other concerned agencies to prevent unlawful fishing in the area.
Sta. Romana also appealed to the media to report to the DFA any similar incident for proper action.
“We continue to ask our fisherman and our media and our own government agencies, when they see to take note so it can be reported to the DFA and brought to the attention of the Chinese,” he said.
Earlier, the Philippine government promised to take legal action after local fishermen complained that Chinese vessels were poaching giant clams from Panatag Shoal. Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said such action was considered an affront to the country’s sovereignty.
The government might also have to deploy more coast guard personnel and purchase additional vessels to guard the West Philippine Sea, Panelo said in a bid to prevent entry of poachers in the area.
He said the government was doing its job in protecting the marine environment but admitted that coast guards could not implement round-the-clock patrol over the vast territorial waters.