Last August 11, the Albert Del Rosario (ADR) Institute partnered with DLSU to spearhead the Post-Arbitration Series: A Focus on the Harm Done to the Environment held at the Y407-409. The talk was part of a series of conferences that started in the University of the Philippines and the Asian Institute of Management.
Former Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Albert Del Rosario, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, DLSU College of Science Professor Dr. Ma. Carmen Lagman, and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Philippines Chairman Aurelio Montinola III were invited as speakers for the event.
On environmental issue of China vs the Philippines
International Studies Department’s Dr. Renato De Castro gave a quick review regarding the arbitration case filed by the Philippines against China. The Permanent Court of Arbitration under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) ruled in favor of the Philippines in its claims against China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
“The permanent court of arbitration award to the Philippines case is a strong assertion of the dispute resolution of the UN Law of the Sea and more significantly the triumph of the Philippines liberal and legal approach over china’s realpolitik approach in the South China Sea dispute,” emphasized Dr. De Castro.
Finally, De Castro sees the conference as an opportunity to mobilize the scientific community and inform the world about the environmental impacts of China’s territorial claims. “This is an issue that does not concern us only human beings; it also of course would have to mobilize the scientific community and tell China and the world that what China is doing in the South China Sea affects the very important component of our lives as human beings, and that is of course the environment,” he said.
On diplomacy and moving forward
The ADR Institute share in the observation made by many that the degradation and destruction of the ecosystems in and around the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal deserve greater attention from the people.
Del Rosario shared that he felt that the lack of meaningful attention to the issue is quite surprising because he believes that as Filipinos living in an archipelago, the well-being of the surrounding seas is of vital importance to the country.
“From a diplomat’s perspective, we can say that harmful activities in Philippine waters affect not only this country’s interest but also those of our neighbors. By the same token, the same practices in our neighboring waters can also affect Philippine interest whether we like it or not we’re all in this together,” he explained.
He cited that illegal fishing activities and destructive environmental practices in the West Philippine Sea began long before the filing of the arbitration case. Del Rosario also added that the earliest incident recorded occurred in 1998 and since then the Philippines has been consistently protesting against illegal and destructive activities.
On the subject of building trust for the future, Del Rosario suggested that the Philippines should look for ways to cooperate with our neighbors to preserve marine ecosystems in the South China Sea and to ensure the sustainability of fishing resources for everyone.
He said that these efforts could serve a purpose beyond improving marine protection for this could build trust and show good faith with the rest of the world. “The hand of friendship can and should be extended to all who would join the cause of protecting the marine environment, of upholding international law, and of seeking peace and security in the region,” he stated.
Justice Carpio then talked about the environmental issues that were raised in the Philippine-China arbitration. “One of the six major issues the Philippines raised before the tribunal is that China caused severe harm to the marine environment within the Philippine EEZ when China dredged seven reefs in the Spratlys and allowed Chinese fishermen to harvest endangered species in the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal,” he recalled.
He also shared that the harm done by China to the marine environment violated its obligation under Article 192 of UNCLOS which is to protect and preserve the marine environment. He also explained that China allowed Chinese fishermen from the Tanmen Village to harvest giant clams through long shaft propellers that cuts through the corals and each giant clam will sell for at least a hundred US dollars.
Carpio introduced a proposal by a Dr. John McManus back in the 1990’s. He proposed that the Spratlys be declared as an International Marine Peace Park as win-win solution to the territorial dispute. The proposal was based on the 1994 peace agreement between Israel and Jordan which resolved their overlapping claim over the Red Sea.
“I hope that the NGO’s, private NGO’s, marine biologists, ecologists, and students will support this idea and encourage and ask their government to declare the Spratlys as a marine protected area.” Carpio called out to everyone.
On the importance of the environment and policy recommendations
DLSU’s Dr. Lagman emphasized the abundance of marine biodiversity found in the South China Sea, which touches the coastlines of China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia, and which also takes about 3.8 square kilometers in the Pacific Ocean and includes the Gulf of Thailand and Gulf of Tonkin. There are about 3,365 species in 263 families found in the area, stressed Dr. Lagman.
She also lamented the cases of illegal unreported, unregulated fishing in the area, and called for international cooperation in protecting the waters as per Articles 63-65 of the UNCLOS.
Meanwhile, WWF Philippines’ Montinola recalled the Paris agreement where countries agreed to target a less than two centigrade increase by 2020 to avert a global climate crisis. He called for a shift toward a low carbon and climate-resilient future.
He also highlighted the advocacies of the organization, among them cleaner energy. One of the topics discussed was the organization’s policy position for climate and energy, which involves promotion of cleaner renewable energy, such as geothermal, solar, and wind energy.