The University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UPMSI) is offering a partnership with different Palawan-based institutions, including the academe, enforcement agencies, and policymakers to strengthen Marine Science Research (MSR) in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and support their needs for expeditions for further research.
Deputy Director for Research Dr. Deo Onda said UPMSI has been involved in expeditions in the WPS and is now offering partnership with local institutions to involve more Palaweños in data gathering and conduct of studies in the disputed region.
“We are doing research, which is important to understand the environment, kaya lang most of the efforts in West Philippine Sea in the past years ay masyadong limited sa MSI. What we want to do now is to involve more Palawan-based institutions in to these efforts. Kapag sinabing West Philippine Sea expedition, hindi na MSI, PSU na, WPU na,” Onda said.
“Kailangan pa natin ng mas maraming datos para malaman kung gaano kalaki ang dependence ng Palawan for example sa reefs sa Kalayaan, yon ang kahalagahan ng pag-aaral, kahalagahan ng expedition, kahalagahan ng research. That is why we are here right now because we want you to partner with us for that. Not just for research, but for policy and advocacy,” he added.
Almost 38.6 percent of the country’s territory belongs to the western side and most of it is covered by Palawan, he said. Onda stressed that discussing WPS is not only limited to the waters in the west of Palawan. WPS covers the west of Batanes, west of Luzon, and even west the of Kalayaan Islands Group (KIG) he said.
WPS is a large body of water, which is high in biodiversity. The part of Philippine waters contributes a lot in biodiversity, Onda said adding that it is also a rich fishing ground next to the Philippine Rise or Benham Rise.
“Probably some of the fish, the invertebrate, iba’t ibang klase ng hayop na pinapangitlog sa mga corals ng Pag-asa, they don’t stay in Pag-asa. They get drifted, transported and deposited somewhere else. Where would that be, most of that predicted to be deposited in the west of Palawan. Ibig sabihin, yong mga paborito natin puntahan na corals dyan sa Ulugan, Nagtabon, Talaudyong, probably some of them are actually born in Kalayaan Island Group,” he said.
“That’s one of the reasons (for interdependence) why protecting the off-shore reefs in Pag-asa, in the Kalayaan Island Group has significant effect on the productivity of waters in the west of Palawan. Hindi man nakikita ang Pag-asa o napupuntahan, nakikinabang tayo sa mga serbisyo. That’s one important role of West Philippine Sea,” he further added.
Why Palawan waters are under threat
Due to limited access to needed resources, MSI has only conducted eight expeditions for the past 25 years compared to China which has installed three research facilities in the WPS where scientists are working every day, he said.
Its implication gives Chinese scientists a better understanding of the WPS and knowledge on how to use the resources in the area.
“Hindi naman lingid sa kaalaman natin kung anong nangyayari sa karagatan ng West Philippine Sea. Nandiyan ang illegal poaching, illegal fishing, artificial island building at iyong pagpasok ng iba’t ibang foreign entities na ‘yong mga isda na para sa Pilipino ay nakukuha ng iba. All of those are actually threats, to us, to future Palawenos and future Filipinos,” he said.
Onda believes that with knowledge and understanding, a solution regarding the issue can be identified. Limited knowledge among Filipinos, he added, can result in confusion on how resources can be used and in having a limited basis for policy-making to protect the WPS.
Marine scientific research, he said too, is the only way to be able to understand and prepare for other threats such as ocean acidification, extreme heating events, increased ocean temperatures, sea level rise, and extreme rainfalls.
Aside from being a food source, WPS must also be appreciated for its role in ecological connectivity where tourism is dependent on the marine environment, and even for discovering marine organisms for medical use.
“Ang problema, dahil hindi tayo nakakagawa ng pag-aaral, habang nasisira ang environment, hindi rin natin alam kung paano tayo naaapektuhan and that is a big question. That’s a big threat to us. Paano tayo gagawa ng isang polisiya na hindi naman natin alam kung ano ang ugat ng problema? At paano tayo makakatungtong doon sa ugat ng problema? Pananaliksik at pag-aaral, siyentipikong pag-aaral,” he said.
“The limited or lack of understanding of the consequences of these activities puts us Filipinos and Palawenos in a very vulnerable position. Because we are using the sources in facing problems that we haven’t fully understood,” he added.
Consultation and partnership with local institutions
Onda said UPMSI will help local institutions to address challenges and limitations hampering the conduct of marine researches in the WPS such as building capacity, expertise, and facilities.
One challenge, he said, is the UPGRADE CIA program or Upgrading Capability, Infrastructure and Assets with four projects classified as IRARE Pag-asa or Initial Repair and Refurbishment of the Pag-asa station which was launched in 1995 but was never used. The others are UPGRADE CIA WPS MRS and UPGRADE CIA HEINACU or Higher Education Institution and Non-government Agency Capacity Upgrading.
The UPMSI through the consultation will find out what are the needs of the local-based institutions in conducting marine researches such as technical support, additional equipment and the need for support in doing expedition to widen the data gathering from the site.
“That’s why what we are offering right now is actually a partnership,” he said.
He said that UPMSI has already prepared its plan for 2024 and is now building the road map to 2030.
“We are actually in a sea of opportunities and Palawan stakeholders are being given that opportunity. All the things that we are doing are not possible without our partners. We are partnering with different agencies and want your name, your institution to be part of that board. We are partnering with military, coast guard, different agencies,” he said.