Govt assures protection of PH territorial waters

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More funds have been allocated for the research and protection of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), an official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said.

This, according to lawyer Analiza Rebuelta-Teh, DENR Undersecretary for Climate Change and Mining Concerns, in a virtual presser on the West Philippine Sea on March 19.

“Now, in terms of resources whether we have sufficient resources to protect our exclusive economic zone and in particular to fully funding the research, of course, as you all know, we always compete with resources with the other sectors which are also equally important. But what is important is,  under the present administration especially with the leadership of Secretary (Hermogenes) Esperon of the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea, we have really increased significantly the budget for the protection of our exclusive economic zone,” Rebuelta-Teh said.

She said the country now has a dedicated budget really for the conduct of marine scientific research, the establishment of monitoring stations, and construction of markers.

“So we are actually now more strategic in our approach. In fact, mayroon pang (in fact there is now a) budget for acquisition of vessels for marine scientific research. So we are now increasing our investments for the protection of our territory and our resources,” she added.

Diplomatic protests

When asked whether the Philippines has identified the nationalities of intruders encroaching in its EEZ, Rebuelta-Teh said the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine Navy are on top of the situation.

“Of course, the agencies, Coast Guard, Navy are on top of this and they have regular reports regarding the presence of foreign vessels within our exclusive economic zone. And in fact, these reports are being documented for appropriate filing of the diplomatic protest,” she added.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, she added, is very keen on ensuring that these are answered.

She said four foreign fishing vessels have been apprehended off the Pag-asa Islands in 2020 for Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUUF) violations.

“And in all those cases,  the illegal fishing equipment and fish catch were confiscated and poachers were escorted out of the area. So these are the actions that we’re doing on the ground in enforcing our marine environmental laws,” Rebuelta-Teh said.

She added that 19 fishing Filipino vessels were ordered to leave Bajo De Masinloc  (Scarborough Shoal) when asked if there have been incidents of harassment against Filipino fishermen in 2020 and 2021. Of the 19, 13 were reported in 2020 and six this year.

“As I mentioned earlier, there were diplomatic protests filed over these incidents,” she said.

Ocean species decrease

Rebuelta-Teh said under a “business-as-usual scenario”, one research predicted that the ocean species in the West Philippine Sea will decrease by up to 59 percent by 2045 due to climate change.

“The second challenge is ensuring that the management of the environmental resources within the West Philippine Sea is based around the connectivity of the entire marine ecosystem from the reefs to the seagrasses from which much marine life depends and third,  strengthening cooperation for marine environmental protection,” she added.

Areas of collaboration, she said, should focus on are the creation of policies that will allow the management more productive coastal and marine environment for the benefit of all neighboring countries; identification of areas with different priorities for sustainable use; management and regulation of destructive and pollutive activities and establishment of a haven for migratory species locally and nationally important marines species.

“Managing the marine environment of the West  Philippine Sea cannot be based primarily on the overlapping territorial and maritime claims to which the aquatic organisms pay no attention,” she said. “Beyond claims of sovereignty, territory and maritime entitlements, the West Philippine Sea faces serious sustainability challenges particularly from the threats of climate and ocean change.”

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