“Three Years After Our Nation’s Arbitral Victory: An Environmental Crisis”

Around June 2018, Filipino fishermen reported the extent of damage inflicted by Chinese fishermen on the seabed of Scarborough Shoal. They also reported that they witnessed these Chinese fishermen bringing corals and giant clams harvested from the area on board their ships. Despite clear evidence and public plea, the government opted not to pursue any legal actions against the Chinese government for violation environmental laws due to the threat it may impose on the diplomatic gains from the warming China-Philippines relations.

It has been three years since the Philippines won the historic arbitral ruling yet the Duterte administration continues to shelf our legal claim, neglect the rights of the Filipino people and serve the wrong [audience]. With an environmental crisis now threatening Philippine territory, other forms of security are being attacked, such as economic security on the livelihood of the directly affected communities, food security on the access to aquaculture and fisheries, and even community security with China slowly [creeping] into and establishing a stronger presence in Philippine territory.

With majority of the odds favoring the Philippines, the government must be pressured further in all possible fronts and opportunities. The military presence established the claim while the arbitral ruling validated/formalized it. Communicating this claim in the national and international level requires a whole-of-society approach, meaning the participation of non-state actors, civil society organizations, the academe, the private sector – every Filipino.

This event was hosted by Atty. Anthony Abad, President and CEO of TA Trade Advisory Group. The Opening Remarks were delivered by Amb. Albert del Rosario, Chairman of the Stratbase ADR Institute.

The presentations of the speakers may be accessed in the links below. Photos of the event may be viewed here.

PANEL 1: THE WEST PHILIPPINE SEA ON THE 3RD YEAR OF DUTERTE

Justice Antonio T. Carpio
Senior Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the Philippines

Dr. Renato de Castro
Trustee and Program Convenor, Stratbase ADR Institute;
Professor, International Studies Department, De La Salle University

Dr. Jay Batongbacal
Director, University of the Philippines Institute of Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea

Open Forum Moderated by Mr. Richard Heydarian
Non-Resident Fellow, Stratbase ADR Institute

The first session focused on framing and situating the current political environment the country is faced with when it comes to the West Philippine Sea issue under the Duterte administration.

As early as 2011, the country witnessed China’s aggression in the South China Sea when its frigates attacked a Filipino fishing vessel and when it threatened to collide with a Filipino ship conducting seismic testing. After these encounters, the government, at that time the Aquino administration, began referring to the body of water as the West Philippine Sea. In 2012, the Philippines experienced a standoff with China in the Scarborough Shoal with both countries bringing into the scene their own vessels; the Philippines with the BRP Gregorio del Pilar and China with several surveillance ships. The standoff lasted for 3-months and were accompanied with other forms of aggression coming from both parties. In the following year, the Philippines filed an arbitration case in the Permanent Court of Arbitration to settle the territorial dispute with China. Despite efforts from the Philippine side to bring China to cooperate, the latter continued to ignore these demands and carried on with their reclamation activities and hard power diplomacy. Then, on July 12, 2016, the Philippines won the historic, landmark arbitral ruling. This victory was not just a win for the Philippines but also to the international community since this particular territorial dispute, or territorial disputes in general were always viewed in the lens of the military for resolve. The rules-based approach and use of international law overcame the hard power approach of a bigger power.

Three years have passed since the historic, landmark arbitral ruling that won the Philippines its rightful claim on the West Philippine Sea. Despite this win, the Duterte administration continues to shelf the case to pave more way for “diplomatic gains and economic gains” at the expense of the Filipinos’ rights being violated. The delays were accompanied by promises of resolution through bilateral talks and other diplomatic means that has not established anything substantial for the Filipinos to hold on to as guarantee. Former Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Albert del Rosario, with former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales continues the fight by filing to the International

Criminal Court (ICC) a complaint against President Xi Jinping for crimes against humanity. While that case remains in the hand of the ICC prosecutor, another initiative in the national level was pushed. The writ of kalikasan issued by the Supreme Court has now held the government accountable for failing to protect the Philippine interests in the Scarborough Shoal.

This panel presentation aimed to assess the government’s policy direction and action in the West Philippine halfway through the term of Duterte given the circumstances and pressures coming from both inside and outside the Philippines, and the changing, unpredictable foreign policy agenda of the Duterte administration with China. The experts provided an overview of the current administration’s policy agenda and forecast the direction it wants the Philippines to take when it comes to the West Philippine Sea considering the political and economic interests it has.

PANEL 2: ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS IN THE WEST PHILIPPINE SEA

Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales
Former Ombudsman

Dr. Deo Florence Onda
Chief Scientist, PROTECT West Philippine Sea;
Assistant Professor, UP Marine Science Institute

Atty. Jose Manuel “Chel” Dioko
Dean, De La Salle University College of Law;
Lawyer for fishermen in an on-going writ of Kalikasan case at the Supreme Court

Chiara Zambrano
Correspondent, ABS-CBN News

Open Forum Moderated by Dr. Francis Domingo
Non-Resident Fellow, Stratbase ADR Institute
Vice Chair, International Studies Department, De La Salle University

The second session focused on the environmental threat that the country is facing in Scarborough Shoal and its implications to other factors such as environmental and economic security.

The fishing community in Scarborough Shoal have expressed their concerns and sentiments regarding the illegal fishing and poaching activities of Chinese nationals which is damaging the reefs, and their helplessness in the presence of their military forces. They have reported to Philippine military officials of the damages done by these activities, including 1-meter-deep dredged seabed, destroyed coral reefs and degrading marine life environment. The lack of awareness on the issue, or rather the limited information given to the Filipinos regarding the situation in the West Philippine Sea does not cover much that could communicate the urgency of the atrocities being experienced by the Filipinos directly affected, mainly the fishing community.

This panel presentation aimed to inform the audience the extent of damage the Scarborough Shoal currently has beyond what is presented in common media platforms, and the potential damage other marine resources and habitats in the West Philippine Sea could face if Chinese activities continue. It also aimed to inform on the long-term implications it may have for food security, economic security and environmental security. The experts for this panel are those directly engaged in the monitoring and research from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Biodiversity Management Bureau-funded project called “Predicting Responses between Ocean Transport and Ecological Connectivity of Threatened ecosystems in the West Philippine Sea” or also known as, PROTECT-WPS. This session also focused on communicating the story of the directly affected communities and suggest ways forward in order to simplify the language into the community level to engage the public further regarding the issue. The experts also aimed to synthesize and provide to the audience the necessary steps the government should take using these facts.

Lastly, the results of the Social Weather Stations Survey on the Public Perception of the West Philippine Sea were presented by Dr. Mahar Mangahas, President of Social Weather Stations.

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