It was a classic ‘David and Goliath’ scenario in more ways than one: A small contingent of activists from environmental group Kalikasan PNE and progressive party Bayan Muna staged a protest outside the glass-and-concrete facade of the Chinese Consulate’s building in Makati. We called on the gargantuan Chinese government to respect the rights of small fisherfolk and pull out their ecologically destructive reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea.
We protested how big business interests of China’s oil and gas industry and its naval muscle are having their way in the West PH Sea, running roughshod over the environment and fisheries. We decried how not only China but all governments involved in the territorial dispute have failed to uphold their inter-generational responsibility to the people’s right to a balanced and healthful ecology.
Think about it: the West PH Sea is home to a third of the world’s entire marine biodiversity and is the second most important seascape in the Coral Triangle–the global center of marine biodiversity—upon which relies the livelihood of 120-340 million Asians across countries adjacent to its waters. Fisheries provide for 70 percent of our country’s protein intake alone, and our territories in the West PH Sea compose 26 percent of our total fisheries area.
Of course, the West PH Sea offers a lot more than that. It is a maritime silk road that connects vast economic interests worth $5 trillion annually across Asia and the Pacific. Beneath its seafloor lie untapped oil and gas deposits amounting to 11 billion barrels and 190 trillion cubic feet of proven and probable reserves, respectively.
These are hefty numbers more than enough to get Capitalist China’s greed going. It is also more than enough to make the US Empire pivot 60 percent of its military forces to the Asia-Pacific and push for the de facto return of their military bases in the Philippines.
And with that, ladies and gentlemen, we now have a volatile ‘Iraq’ situation here in East Asia. We are caught right in the middle of it all as a pawn of the US, as a punching bag of China, and one of many dissonant voices staking a claim over these riches.
What is the use of being signatories to landmark international treaties such as the Convention on Biodiversity, Convention on the Laws of the Sea, or the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species? How can such lofty aspirations as sustainable development and the millennium development goals be achieved if we destroy the bountiful sea that provides for us?
A peaceful and sustainable multilateral cooperation is possible, and we can look to the North Sea in the Atlantic Ocean for some insights. Since 1984, its claimant states have convened the International Conference on the Protection of the North Sea to facilitate cooperation in integrating fisheries management and environmental conservation. Examples of partly or fully implemented non-binding commitments include waste dumping bans and a 50-percent reduction of nutrient inputs by 2020.
We already have experience in the Coral Triangle Initiative involving five other countries in cooperating for the protection of the renowned marine biodiversity corridor. Instead, the Aquino administration stuck to the century-old colonial mentality that increasing US military intervention would do the trick of reining in China’s bullying. Never mind its track record of being Asia-Pacific’s biggest polluter, and its own admission that our various bilateral military agreements do not commit them to come to our aid when China shows aggression.
There is an urgent need not only to address the rising tensions in the West PH Sea, but most importantly to come up with a sustainable solution to protecting and managing its wealth. But the challenge rests not only on Goliath China, but on the rest of the ‘Davids’ in the contested waters, as well.
We can initiate inter-country cooperation in monitoring the environmental situation in waters covered by our exclusive economic zones, sharing knowledge and experiences in addressing outstanding problems of overfishing, poaching, and ecosystem degradation, and building and empowering the capacities of our fisher folks.
We can compel state authorities to push for bilateral or multilateral ventures in exploring and utilizing the various natural resources in the West PH Sea, based on the people’s needs and on the sea’s ecological limits.
Leon Dulce is the campaign coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment. He is also the spokesperson for Environmental Network against Pork Barrel and Corruption.