MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines will impose a fishing ban in portions of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), but President Benigno Aquino III quelled speculations it is due to the moves of the Chinese government with which it is locked in a month-long standoff over Scarborough Shoal.
“'Yung fishing ban po natin, hindi dahil sa gobyerno ng China pero atin ho 'yan, exclusive economic zone natin 'yan. Kailangan na nating i-preserve 'yung patrimony – nakalagay po sa Constitution – so kailangan po nating gawin 'yung dapat para maka-recover itong ating marine resources,” Aquino said in a Bombo Radyo interview aired Wednesday, May 16.
(We are implementing a fishing ban not only because the China also did so, but because it is ours, it is within our exclusive economic zone. We need to preserve our patrimony – that is in our Constitution – so we need to do all that we can to allow our marine resources to recover.)
The exclusive economic zone is an area up to 200 NM from the baselines, within which a State has the sovereign rights to explore and exploit, and conserve and manage natural resources, among others.
'Damaged' coral beds
In the taped Bombo Radyo interview, Aquino cited reports from the Philippine Coast Guard about supposed discoloration in South China Sea waters. He said this was proof that fishing nets have been damaging coral beds, which serve as habitats for fish.
“Napakalaking isyu nitong coral beds na 'to para mapanatili 'yung fish supply diyan,” the President said. (The coral beds are a big issue to maintain the fish supplies there.)
Earlier, China said it will impose a fishing ban over the South China Sea for two and a half months starting Wednesday.
The Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs had said it is an “encroachment” on Philippine territory, but Aquino said it can benefit the ecosystem.
Int'l marine reserve
A temporary fishing ban is not enough, however, an expert said.
In an open letter to Aquino that was first published on Rappler, top environmental lawyer Antonio Oposa Jr proposed turning the South China Sea into an international marine reserve.
“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.
With over 3,300 species of fish in the area, the South China Sea is one of the world's centers of biodiversity.
The whole area measures over 3.4 million square kilometers – or roughly 5,488 times the size of Metro Manila. (Read: Marine riches of South China Sea) – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of 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 him at email@example.com.