Turn South China Sea into a marine reserve?

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Netizens debate on a top environmental lawyer's proposal to turn the South China Sea into a marine reserve amid the ongoing Scarborough Shoal standoff

THORNY SEAHORSE. This kind of seahorse is one of the creatures found in the South China Sea. Photo courtesy of Blogie Robillo, www.scubadavao.com

MANILA, Philippines – A top environmental lawyer’s proposal has sparked another debate on the ongoing Scarborough Shoal standoff between the Philippines and China.

In a letter to President Benigno Aquino III, lawyer Antonio Oposa Jr proposed turning the South China Sea into an international marine reserve, triggering a clash of opinions among Filipinos.

“Small thinking is to quarrel over a few pieces of rock in the middle of a big sea in the hope of finding oil to take out and use up for the present needs of a single country. Big thinking is that instead of fighting like children over a piece of candy, let us bring the debate to an altogether different plane,” said Oposa, a Ramon Magsaysay awardee, in the letter first published on Rappler.

Generally, a marine reserve is an area that has legal protection against fishing or any development.

Oposa said that by declaring the South China Sea as an international marine reserve and nature park, the Philippines will not antagonize other countries that claim parts of it as their territory.

“Instead, the Philippines will be taking the moral high road, and thereby earn the respect of the world that is increasingly more environmentally aware. Rather than fight with the claimant countries in competition to use resources for the present, we will bring the countries together in cooperation to reserve resources for the future,” he explained.

TOP LAWYER. One of Asia's leading voices in environmental law, Antonio Oposa Jr, makes a proposal amid the Scarborough Shoal dispute. Photo by Melvyn Calderon

Aquino has not replied to Oposa’s letter.

The Palace will defer to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Foreign Affairs on this matter, said Palace spokesperson Usec Abigail Valte in a text message Saturday, April 28.

On Twitter, netizens gave different opinions on this in a conversation facilitated by Rappler on Saturday afternoon.

Netizen @gabbygobalauag said he agrees to Oposa’s proposal. He said it would “dissolve” international contests and preserve the environment. “Walang makapanlalamang,” he added. (No one can take advantage of the other.)

The possible move will also derail China’s power that it wants to “establish” over the South China Sea and the rest of the world, said Twitter user @JB_GreenOne.

“It is clear that China wants to own the area. So as marine reserve, it will be more protected and any wrong move will be crucial,” @JB_GreenOne added.

For @itsmeKENNN, declaring the disputed area an international marine reserve “is tantamount to telling ourselves we can’t fight for our rights.”

“Who will implement or police the marine reserve area in the South China Sea?” added netizen @jovensclaudio. “The toothless UN?”

(Read more of the comments in the Storify link below)

With over 3,300 species of fish in the area, the South China Sea is one of the world’s centers of biodiversity. Illegal fishing activities, among other things, continue to threaten it. (Read: Marine Riches of South China Sea.)

The incident that triggered the ongoing Scarborough Shoal standoff is, in itself, an alleged abuse of the South China Sea. Philippine authorities have accused Chinese fishermen of collecting endangered species in what is considered Philippine territory. – Rappler.com


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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com