A lawmaker has proposed to declare the three nautical miles off the Kalayaan island group and Scarborough Shoal as a marine protected area (MPA) to prevent poaching and reclamation activities, among others.
Palawan Representative Eduard Hagedorn proposed House Bill 6373, saying the move is following the 2016 UN Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling upholding the Philippines’ 200 nautical miles off territorial sea exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea and the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System law of 2018.
The arbitration ruling voided China’s nine-dash line historical claim over most of the South China Sea.
The arbitration court also ruled that Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Recto (Reed) Bank were all within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as provided by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas.
“The South China Sea, where the WPS is located, has high biological diversity and is, unfortunately, suffering significant environmental degradation due to overfishing, poaching, and landfilling or reclamation. For this reason, the establishment of MPA around the KIG and Scarborough Shoal is needed for environmental protection,” Hagedorn said in his explanatory note on the measure.
“According to the said ruling, the right to engage in traditional fishing in the Scarborough Shoal is given, regardless of who ultimately has sovereignty over the same. As such, it is proposed that the three nautical miles radius surrounding the KIG and the Scarborough Shoal be declared as an MPA, with strict regulations as to activities therewith consistent with the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 2018,” he added in a statement.
Hagedorn’s bill defines MPA as identified portions of water set aside because of their unique physical and biological significance, managed to enhance biological diversity, and protected against destructive human exploitation.
He said the tribunal's decision found that coral reef ecosystems of several reefs have suffered "severe and irreparable harm" and have been "permanently destroyed" due to land reclamation and construction of artificial islands, installations, and structures in the area.
Among the affected reefs include Mischief Reef (Panganiban Reef), Cuarteron Reef (Calderon Reef), Fiery Cross Reef (Kagitingan Reef), Gaven Reef (North Burgos Reef), Johnson Reef (Mabini Reef), Hughes Reef, and Subi Reef (Zamora Reef).
In addition, Hagedorn said his proposal could also spur other countries who also have claims in the South China Sea, which the Philippines calls the West Philippine Sea, to protect the resource-rich area alongside the Philippines.
“We must learn to cooperate as one region in the protection of our natural resources while we settle the territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea. The protection of the rich marine resources and environment of the West Philippine Sea is a shared interest and responsibility of all adjoining states around the South China Sea which should be a guiding policy for all of us in the region,” Hagedorn said.
“We all stand to gain or to lose depending on the outcome of our collective action. Through this bill, we hope that the Philippines can spark regional cooperation,” he added.
US Vice President Kamala Harris, during her visit to Palawan province near the West Philippine Sea this week, earlier called on nations to respect the Hague court ruling and issued a notice that the US stands with the Philippines "in the face of intimidation and coercion in the South China Sea." —NB, GMA Integrated News