Environmental activist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment renewed its call this week to declare the West Philippine Sea a “marine peace park,” citing the recent flaring up of tensions with the China Coast Guard in the disputed territory.
“With the climate crisis now at humanity’s doorstep, the critical habitats in the West Philippine Sea face three-fold risks of ecological degradation, climate vulnerability, and maritime conflict,” said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.
He noted that amid the election campaign in the country, “we must push our future leaders to commit to declaring the West Philippine Sea as an international marine peace park to demilitarize and conserve the vulnerable area.”
Tensions continue to escalate in the area, with the Philippine Coast Guard reporting earlier this week that a vessel from the China Coast Guard came alarmingly close to one of its patrol ships in a “close distance maneuvering” incident on March 2.
“Our country’s recent initiatives to study new species or restore ecosystems in the West Philippine Sea will be for naught if we do not stop infrastructure projects and other destructive activities by China,” said Dulce.
“We need new leadership that will stand up against China’s aggression and work for peace and sustainability in the region,” he said.
In 2016, an emergency motion was filed with the International Union for Conservation of Nature that “all States and authorities in this region suspend exploitation of natural resources, prospecting, or other activities, pending the study of how to establish marine protected areas in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) and Coral Triangle.”
Dulce said the if Filipinos want peace in the disputed territories, “then we must work harder to push for the creation of marine peace parks and sanctuaries in the area.”
“Sadly, biodiversity is the least talked about environmental concern during the campaign season,” he added.
Last week, a fact-check study came out examining the positions and track records of presidential and vice-presidential candidates on environmental concerns.
The study highlighted that the positions on extractives and destructive projects were most notable, however putting biodiversity conservation as the least priority.
“We must continue to pressure candidates to talk more about the looming destruction of ecosystems in the West Philippine Sea,” said Dulce as he called on Filipino voters “to elect leaders who will stand not just for national sovereignty over our natural resources, but also for the conservation of our country’s biodiversity.”