MALACAÑANG on Tuesday, May 21, said the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command (WestCom) should validate reports that clam harvesters from China have returned to the disputed South China.
"This is the first time I have heard of that. And I suppose the Western Command should make a validation of that," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo told a press briefing on Tuesday.
American think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative-Center for Strategic and International Studies (AMTI-CSIS), in its report dated May 20, claimed that Chinese clam harvesting boats have returned to the South China Sea "in force" over the last six months.
Panelo said the Duterte administration would let the Department of Foreign Affairs led by Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. take appropriate actions.
"[We'll let WestCom to] refer it to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs for whatever action the department may take on that issue," he said.
Citing satellite images, the American think tank noted that the Chinese clam harvesting fleets were seen operating frequently at Scarborough Shoal and throughout the Paracels, including Bombay Reef, since late 2018.
"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 noted.
"The clam shells are transported back to Hainan Province where they fetch thousands of dollars each in a thriving market for jewelry and statuary," it added.
In April, Malacañang called China's reported mass harvesting of giant clams in Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal in the disputed South China Sea as an affront to the Philippines' territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Asked if the Philippine government has plans of filing a diplomatic protest against China's extraction of giant clams in the disputed sea, Panelo said, "That depends on the DFA." (SunStar Philippines)