THE Philippines should seize China-owned assets in the country as payment for reef damage caused by its island-building activities in the South China Sea, a former top diplomat said on Monday.

“Philippine authorities have the right to seize assets and properties owned by the Chinese state here in the Philippines to satisfy Chinese debt to the Filipino people,” former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario said at an online forum.

Among these assets are China’s shares in the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) and DITO Telecommunity Corp.

The State Grid Corp. of China has a 40% stake each in NGCP and China Telecommunications Corp., which partially owns DITO with Udenna Corp. and Chelsea Logistics and Infrastructure Holdings Corp.

“We have to take China accountable for the ecological damage in the West Philippine Sea,” Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel, who hosted yesterday’s forum said, referring to the part of the South China Sea within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

“We need to comprehensively audit this damage, now estimated at P200 billion and demand payment,” she added.

Ms. Baraquel in April asked the government of President Rodrigo R. Duterte to exert legal and diplomatic pressure on China to cease destructive activities in the disputed sea, and pay damages that the Southeast Asian nation could use in the fight against a novel coronavirus pandemic.

Based on a 2012 Ecosystem Services study, the reef damage was about P33 billion annually or P200 billion for the past six years.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila earlier called the senator’s move as “ridiculously absurd and irresponsible.”

The United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Haque favored the Philippines in a lawsuit filed by ex-President Benigno S.C. Aquino III against China in 2016, rejecting its claim to most parts of the South China Sea based on a nine-dash line.

Unlike his predecessor, Mr. Duterte has sought closer investment and trade ties with China, offering a joint exploration of the disputed waterway for energy resources.

Former Supreme Court Justice Antonio T. Carpio said China refuses to recognize the ruling. “If the Chinese government today accepts the arbitral ruling, the Chinese people will consider their leaders and the Chinese government as traitors,” he said at the same forum.

“The Chinese government is stuck with the nine-dash line claim even as the whole world, except China, is laughing at this ridiculous claim,” he added. — Charmaine A. Tadalan