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PRESS RELEASE
02 July 2019
Official Statement of the UP Marine Science Institute on the West Philippine Sea 
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The West Philippine Sea is for Filipinos

The UP Marine Science Institute (UP MSI) believes that our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) should be actively protected and cared for to safeguard the economic, ecological, and food security of current and future Filipino generations.

The EEZ is the area surrounding the Philippines up to 200 nautical miles (370km) from the shore. A rich fishing ground plentiful in marine life, the WPS EEZ stretches from Batanes to the south of Balabac in Southern Palawan, including the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in the Spratlys. While the municipal waters, which are nearer to shore are more productive in terms of fish catch per unit area, the WPS EEZ, which contains around 40% of the Philippines’ EEZ, has higher total fisheries production than the WPS municipal waters combined. Dr. Jay Batongbacal and Assoc. Justice Antonio Carpio discussed the legality and constitutionality of inclinations towards opening the WPS EEZ to foreign entities; UP MSI would then like to shed light and share information on the ecological implications and social consequences of tolerating foreign access.

Fisheries production of both municipal and EEZ waters of the country has declined over the past decades, and is predicted to drop further by 25-50% in a few years’ time. Part of solving the problem is understanding the processes and interconnectivity of oceans and seas. For example, eggs, larvae, and small fishes born in the WPS and the larger Spratly Islands drift along ocean currents and settle in the coastal areas of Western Palawan and Northwestern Luzon. Such information is important in crafting effective and appropriate management strategies that will help us sustain local stocks, securing food for current and future generations of Filipinos.

The key to utilizing and protecting resources in the WPS EEZ is EXCLUSIVE ACCESS. Allowing foreign entities to occupy and exploit these waters would be tantamount to denying Filipino fisherfolks access to their own food and resources.

Our exclusive economic rights also come with equal responsibility to protect, manage, and sustainably use the resources in our WPS EEZ – a responsibility enshrined in our constitution and national laws. As stewards of WPS, we are responsible for deterring ongoing and future activities and practices that endanger or damage our resources. These laws that apply to Filipinos should also apply to ALL, with no exemptions. Reported activities of foreign vessels, such as the Chinese fishing fleets in our EEZ violate both local and international standards. Harvesting of clams and corals, dead or alive, results in significant physical damages and ultimate demise of the habitats from where they were taken. These are the same habitats that serve as home and breeding grounds of most marine life, and source of food of many Filipinos.

Damages to marine habitats and resources will affect ecosystem services. These include fundamental (e.g., foods, habitats, novel products), regulatory (e.g., climate, biogeochemical cycles), environmental (e.g., biogeography, genetic diversity), and cultural (e.g., disaster reduction) services. Alarmingly, we are losing these services at a rate faster than we are understanding them. Aside from corals and clams, WPS is also rich in seaweeds, seagrasses, other animals, and even microorganisms. Some of these marine microbes may become sources of new drugs, medicines, and other biotechnological products. Emerging issues such as trash and plastics have already been found accumulating in these environments, but there is no clear understanding of their impact yet. Losing these habitats and ecosystems would mean losing many resources that could benefit future generations of Filipinos.

Given recent issues related to the WPS, the UP MSI would like to reiterate our following calls in order to move forward:

  1. We call for all parties to stop, deter and avoid activities that may further compromise the status and health of these resources, and to strictly implement laws and policies that are already in place;
  2. We call for the establishment of multilateral marine protected areas (MPAs), along with international scientific cooperation on joint studies and expeditions in South China Sea. Recognizing the sensitivity of this issue, we call on the governments of the Philippines, China, and ASEAN states to seriously discuss these possibilities by acknowledging the SCS as a shared heritage that we will bestow on future generations;
  3. Knowing the importance of scientific information in crafting appropriate and effective management strategies, we call on the national agencies to invest more on Science and Technology (S&T) in our EEZ by equipping and empowering our local scientists through infrastructure and human resources developments;
  4. As the Philippines transitions to blue economy, we call on the creation of a separate Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) that will be mandated to study, utilize, manage and protect the largest ecosystem and future biggest contributor to Philippine economy - Our Oceans and Seas;
  5. We call on the public to become more aware and be part of a MOVEMENT for RESPONSIBLE STEWARDSHIP not only for WPS but all the seas surrounding the country, and we hope that such involvement would not stop in shares, likes and comments in social media. Ordinary citizens can become involved by educating people and improving the level of discourse with use of scientific facts and data, and by stopping disinformation and misinformation.
  6. We call on ourselves, other academic and research institutions, and related NGOs to educate the public on the importance of the WPS and other waters surrounding the Philippines, and the urgency of its protection.

Filipinos, proud protectors of the West Philippine Sea! Padayon!


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PROTECT WPS: 
AN ALL FILIPINO SCIENTIFIC EXPEDITION to the KALAYAAN ISLAND GROUP (KIG) in the WEST PHILIPPINE SEA (WPS)

On April 22, 2019 (Monday), the University of the Philippines - Marine Science Institute (UP MSI) will hold a Send-off Program for their joint scientific expedition with the Department of Agriculture – Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) to the Kalayaan Island Group in the West Philippine Sea (KIG-WPS) under the DENR-Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR BMB) funded project "Predicting Responses between Ocean Transport and Ecological Connectivity of Threatened ecosystems in the West Philippines Sea (PROTECT-WPS)". The expedition will take place from April 22 to May 6, 2019.

The expedition is a continuation of the activities done in previous years. PROTECT-WPS will conduct biological and oceanographic research activities and surveys in some reefs and islands in the KIG-WPS with the aim of generating baseline data and understand changes occurring in threatened marine ecosystems. The conduct of the expedition is under the Coordinated National MSR Initiatives and Related Activities in Philippine Waters 2019 (CONMIRA 2019), which is overseen by the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) and facilitated by the National Coast Watch Council Secretariat (NCWCS). 

The event will take place from 9am to 11am at the Philippine Coast Guard's Cunanan Wharf, Pier 15, South Harbor, Manila City. 

For inquires and more information, please contact Dr. Deo Florence L. Onda, PROTECT WPS Chief Scientist at 981-8500 loc. 2916 or at microocelab@msi.upd.edu.ph with office at Rm. 201, The Marine Science Institute, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City.
















Restoring Life through A New Peace 

Statement on China's announcement of its plan to conduct coral reef rehabilitation


Recent events in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) present new opportunities albeit fraught with great challenges. Prof. Jay Batongbacal has pointed the pitfalls of allowing China’s unilateral effort of restoring the ecological damages brought about building artificial islands in the reefs the WPS.

Many scientific studies have shown the importance of the connectivity of marine fisheries to food security, especially to the Philippines’ artisanal fishers and our pelagic commercial fisheries like the galunggong. This interconnectedness of the social and ecological systems though well expounded by many scientists, has not prospered due to China’s reluctance to recognize and accept responsibility for the ecological and social consequences the reclamation and artificial island-building has brought upon the littoral states of the South China Sea. Its announcement that it will pursue restoration and rehabilitation work offers technological fixes, but is fraught with possible political consequences. As pointed out, these may solve some ecological problems but result in unilateral exercises of jurisdiction, jeopardizing the Rule of Law and disregarding the ruling of the Hague arbitral tribunal. In addition, the silence as regard access arrangements and consequences may lead the other claimants to suspect the nobility of China’s intentions.

Be that as it may, many in the marine science community find opportunities in China’s recognition of the need to begin to address some of the ecological consequences of their activities in the South China Sea. While accepting responsibility of damages was a remote possibility for China some years ago, the recent announcement of reef restoration efforts could be an opening for considering multilateral scientific cooperation anew.

There has long been a consensus among many scientists in the region that cooperation in science and technology is an important venue for cooperation.  A critical and strategic first step together which has been proposed by the Philippines in various fora, is the establishment of a multilateral marine protected areas (MPA) network. Beyond the establishment of the MPA network and the essential scientist and cooperative engagement, other steps can be explored such as the restocking of the endangered giant clams and sustainable mariculture of other high-value species, in addition to reef restoration. More comprehensive measures may be opened that help in sustaining food security through fisheries cooperation. Perhaps with these initial efforts, it will be possible to eventually address more complicated concerns like ecotourism, energy development, and marine environmental management.

In light of the ASEAN-China Declaration for a Decade of Coastal and Marine Environmental Protection signed in 2017. We in the marine scientific community are keeping an open mind and are calling upon China for more information about its intentions and plans for coral reef restoration in the SCS. Our hope is that this activity can be a sincere effort toward multilateral cooperation in marine environmental conservation and protection. Cognizant of the sensitive nature of this proposal, we further call upon China, the Government of the Philippines, and the scientific communities and governments of the littoral States of the SCS to sincerely and seriously discuss this possibility. This would make this initiative a truly cooperative and mutually beneficial activity, without prejudice to their respective positions and claims to restore and maintain the ecological balance and health of the South China Sea. This area of highest marine biodiversity in the planet which is the region’s common maritime heritage, demands nothing less. 



 


















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