The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) continues to advocate for the strengthening of the country’s capabilities to safeguard the maritime domain and the marine wealth of the country’s sea waters.
This, as the Philippines observes this month’s environmental awareness promotion as prescribed under the Republic Act No. 9512.
“It is my advocacy to push the Philippines to continue to modernize the land, sea, air, space, and cyber capabilities towards an enhanced surveillance, enforcement, and development capabilities in safeguarding our vast maritime domain and marine wealth, initially valued at P75.02 trillion pesos,” said NTF-WPS Chair and Director-General of the National Security Council (NSC) Secretary Hermogenes C. Esperon, Jr.
During ‘The Virtual Presser’ hosted by the Presidential Communications Operations Office, through the Office of the Global Media and Public Affairs and the Office of Legal Affairs, Esperon traced back the initiatives of the Philippines in gaining recognition of its maritime domains under relevant international laws. Secretary Esperon noted that the Philippines has acquired the international recognition of an archipelago under the Archipelagic Doctrine.
The concept, which regards an archipelago as a single unit and started with efforts to codify the law of the sea during the First Geneva Conference on the Law of the Sea in 1958, was eventually embodied by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982.
The Philippine 1987 Constitution and several national laws have rules pertaining to the country’s maritime domain, which is also in accordance with UNCLOS.
Esperon also relayed the directives of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to strengthen maritime law enforcement; to upgrade all the facilities in the country’s occupied maritime areas; to provide welfare for the municipality of Kalayaan, Palawan, and the Island-communities along the Northern Seaboard; and to combat illegal fishing.
According to Esperon, the President’s directives further include the continuation of robust marine scientific research for the upholding of marine environment protection, conservation, and sustainable development of the country’s marine resources.
This likewise includes policy directives on the promotion of oil and gas development and the security and development of the country’s islands in the waters of the northern and eastern seaboards of the West Philippine Sea.
PH initiatives on safeguarding marine resources
The NTF-WPS consists of 16 member-agencies, which receive guidance from Duterte, through the Cabinet and its clusters, for security, justice, and peace. It was established with the goal of promoting Philippine interests in the West Philippine Sea.
The NTF-WPS chair detailed further the President’s directives on the importance of conducting Marine Scientific Research.
“It is important that we have our own MSR [Marine Scientific Research], we already have three. This is the way to go, we should know what we have and exploit them [natural resources] with care, if necessary in partnership with the whole world. We are looking at a robust blue economy,” said Esperon.
Proclamation No. 489 established a Philippine Rise Marine Resource Reserve, which consisted of two zones. First, the strict protection zone with an area of 49,684 hectares limited to scientific studies.
In addition to this is the Special Fisheries Management area with an area of 302,706 hectares for the sustainable development and regulated utilization of the country’s natural resources. An inter-agency group led by the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA), is continuously collecting technical and scientific data.
“The all-Filipino MSR to the Philippine Rise in May 2018 became the Coordinated National MSR Initiatives and Related Activities in Philippine Waters’ milestone activity, where the Philippine Rise was declared by the President as a Marine Resource Reserve,” said NAMRIA Deputy Administrator Efren P. Carandang.
Following marine researches conducted on the number of resources within the Philippines’ territory, particularly within the WPS, Carandang imparted the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR)’s report in which the WPS serves as fishing grounds for a total of 294,730 fisherfolk in Regions I, III, NCR, IV-A, and MIMAROPA, accounting for 323,684 metric tons of the total fish production in the country.
The Department of Energy (DOE) has estimated that the WPS potentially holds a deposit of about 6,048 million barrels of undiscovered oil and 7,108 billion cubic feet of undiscovered gas.
However, with the continuing illegal activities conducted in the area, Carandang relayed that, “Thousands of Filipino fishermen and coastal communities in the neighboring areas of Palawan, are threatened by illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.”
With this in consideration and in addition to Esperon’s advocacy towards capability modernization, Carandang said, “The government is coordinating the efforts of different agencies, upgrading its marine research fleet, supporting local fisherfolk and marine scientists, and employing all possible means to protect this vital part of the national patrimony while ensuring the safety of its citizens.”
It is within the mandate of the Duterte administration, and that of the NTF-WPS, to uphold the Philippines’ territorial integrity, and utilize and protect natural and marine resources and wealth within its Archipelagic Waters, Territorial Sea, and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.
To recall, the Virtual Presser, launched by the Office of the Global Media and Public Affairs (OGMPA) in April 2019, is PCOO’s interactive online video platform to engage with the international and local media, including foreign audiences.
The OGMPA is tasked to connect government policymakers with the media and promote the Philippine government’s priority policy messages through engagements with foreign and domestic audiences. (PIA)