West Philippine Sea: UP experts set sail for 3-year study seeking opportunities

·Contributor
·3 min read
Filipino fishermen past a large Chinese vessel at the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) April 5, 2017. Picture taken April 5, 2017 REUTERS/Erik De Castro
Filipino fishermen past a large Chinese vessel at the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) April 5, 2017. Picture taken April 5, 2017 REUTERS/Erik De Castro

The West Philippine Sea (WPS) remains threatened by both the Chinese government’s refusal to comply and Chinese fishing crews damaging the environment.

Among other issues, reports of Filipino fisherfolk being harassed by Chinese fishing vessels and artificial islands severely disrupting the ecosystem persist (even if the WPS is ruled to be Philippine territory in 2015).

If left unchecked, the Philippines would have to batten down the hatches.

So began just this April: a three-year voyage for a group of University of the Philippines (UP) researchers. This program is dubbed the “Resource Inventory, Valuation, and Policy in Ecosystem Services under Threat (REINVEST): The Case of the West Philippine Sea.”

The initiative is anchored in reviewing the coastal and marine resources in the WPS and “establish[ing] its economic value as part of the country’s natural capital accounting.” Said initiative is done in partnership with the Department of Science and Technology - Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-PCAARRD).

“The REINVEST program will work around these issues and come up with a total economic value estimate of the resources in the West Philippine Sea guided by national and international policies for valuation and damage assessment. Through this program, the team also intends to support the integration of coastal and marine ecosystems into the country’s SNA [System of National Accounts],” the agency continued in a May 31 statement.

Per the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the SNA is the “statistical framework that provides a comprehensive, consistent and flexible set of macroeconomic accounts for policy making, analysis and research purposes.”

They added that the natural resources in the WPS have been “have been deliberately and accidentally overexploited and damaged through human activities,” and highlighted that there was still not enough research into the matter.

The former sentiments were echoed by the Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM) in 2021. Specifically, the Philippines can face coral reef damages worth P30 billion a year, and around 627,000 fishers may lose their livelihoods.

UP Marine Science Institute (MSI) director Dr. Laura David takes the lead in the program’s resource assessment component, while Dr. Canesio Predo, an associate professor from the Institute of Renewable Natural Resources, UP Los Baños (UPLB), heads the resource valuation and accounting.

Director of the UP Institute of Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea Professor Jay Batongbacal sat down with Yahoo Philippines to talk about the maritime issue on the South China Sea, and the challenges it continues to pose. (Photo: Yahoo Philippines)
Director of the UP Institute of Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea Professor Jay Batongbacal sat down with Yahoo Philippines to talk about the maritime issue on the South China Sea, and the challenges it continues to pose. (Photo: Yahoo Philippines)

Also, straight from Diliman’s UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea (IMLOS) is Atty. Jay Batongbacal, who takes charge of the policy analysis and development aspect.

MSI also condemned Chinese fishing crews for poaching endangered coral reefs and giant clams, highlighting how such acts damaged the ecosystem last 2019. They emphasized that the WPS was essential to achieving national food security, adding that it made-up about 40% of the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)

“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,” they said back then.

Also in the May 31 statement, DOST-PCAARRD Executive Director Dr. Reynaldo Ebora hoped that the program would make waves among Filipinos.

“It is about time that the undervalued and unaccounted ecosystem assets and services of the West Philippine Sea be further identified and integrated into the country’s System of National Accounts for us to manage and develop or utilize said resources sustainably – for what gets measured gets managed,” he said.

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