The United States again vowed to defend the Philippines against potential Chinese attacks in the South China Sea, as the Southeast Asian nation marked the fifth anniversary of a United Nations-backed ruling rejecting China’s vast territorial claims in the disputed waterway.

This assurance was given by the top US security official as a US-based expert sounded the alarm on a “massive marine destruction” being wrought on the West Philippine Sea waters by hundreds of Chinese ships anchored in the South China Sea. 

Liz Derr, CEO-founder of Simularity that specializes in geo-spatial analysis and provides satellite data imagery, said the Chinese ships have been dumping human waste and sewage on the resource-rich waters. 

If China mounts an armed attack against the Philippines, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that any such attack would trigger the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the two countries.

“We also reaffirm that an armed attack on Philippine Armed Forces, public vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke US mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” Blinken said.

For the record, Blinken said the MDT provides that “each party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.”

Blinken also said US President Joseph Biden had reaffirmed his predecessor’s rejection of China’s claim to more than 80 percent of the South China Sea.

“The United States reaffirms its July 13, 2020 policy regarding maritime claims in the South China Sea,” he said, referring to ex-President Donald Trump’s repudiation of Chinese claims in the waterway, which is rich in fish, oil, gas and other natural resources, based on a 1940s nine-dash line map.

The Philippines under the late President Benigno Aquino III sued China before the arbitration court in the Hague given its island-building and military activities in the South China Sea. The court in 2016 favored the Philippines in a decision that China has ignored.

Duterte, who has sought closer trade and investment ties with China since he became President in 2016, belittles the legal victory.

“I pursued it but nothing happened,” he said in a televised speech on May 5. He added that “it’s just a piece of paper and I would throw it in the waste basket.”

Philippine lawmakers have been urging Duterte to boost Philippine alliance with the US. The tough-talking leader had criticized the US for what he claimed was its ill treatment of its former colony.

On the destruction being wrought by Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea, Derr told the Stratbase ADR Institute: “It is so intense you can see it from space.” 

Showing satellite images in the last five years, Derr said effluent from Chinese ships are causing elevated concentrations of Chlorophyll —  leading to “a cascade of reef damage that will take decades to recover even with active mitigation.”

“When the ships don’t move, the poop piles up,” she said.  “The damage to the reefs in the last five years is visible and dramatic.”

At least 236 ships were spotted in the Union Banks or Pagkakaisa Reefs, which is within the West Philippine Sea as of June 17, Derr said.

The marine damage, Derr said, is in addition to the well-documented destruction by China of coral reef, the harvest of endangered giant clams and artificial island-building.

Damaging these reefs, she warned, can lead to hunger crisis to collapse of commercial fishing in the South China Sea, which provides livelihood and food source to millions of people in the region.