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Monday, April 15, 2024

Protect, sustain humanity’s aquatic lifeline

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The Filipino people are well aware of these threats from China and have strong sentiments on defending the country’s territorial and sovereign rights

Yet another wave of swarming maneuvers wherein over 200 Chinese vessels were recently monitored by the Philippine Navy in the vicinity of Panganiban (Mischief Reef), only 35 kilometers from Philippine-occupied Ayungin Shoal where we’ve seen the Chinese Coast Guard commit several aggressive coercive actions to block regular resupply missions.

Ayungin Shoal is where the BRP Sierra Madre has been grounded since 1999 and has become a symbol of Philippine sovereignty and theater of defense against China’s persistent violations of the country’s offshore territories and exclusive economic zone.

Unlike previous supply sorties that encountered dangerous maneuvers from Chinese vessels wherein Philippine civilian supply ships were hit with water cannons and dangerous blocking maneuvers resulting in minor collisions threatening lives, the latest mission that sailed Feb. 2 was accomplished without incident with China’s hundreds of militia vessels keeping their distance — for now.

These invasive maneuverings are part of China’s aggressive projection to claim virtually the whole of the South China Sea and our territories in the West Philippine Sea.

These escalating geopolitical tensions are happening on top of marine resources critical to the food security of all littoral states around the waters of South China Sea and the Indo-Pacific.

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Since the invention of ocean going vessels, the seas have become a planetary commons that for thousands of years have produced food and functions as the nautical highway for intercontinental maritime connections and economic interdependence.

It is like an aquatic lifeline of the Earth’s inhabitants. Its teeming biodiversity supports a variety of fish that are a staple in the diet of billions of humans.

The incursions of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea have had a profound impact on the region’s marine life and resources.

The construction of military bases and reclamation activities have led to the destruction of vast areas of reefs, disrupting marine habitats and ecosystems.

Overfishing, driven by the presence of numerous Chinese fishing vessels, has depleted fish stocks, threatening local livelihoods and regional food security.

Local fisherfolk have also reported harassment, causing distress and fear.

These are clear and present threats that have created a more complex geopolitical flux that interlinks traditional security risks with new security challenges wielding state sponsored digital weaponry to launch disinformation and cybersecurity attacks that can immobilize critical infrastructure and shape public opinion thru social media.

But the Filipino people are well aware of these threats from China and have strong sentiments on defending the country’s territorial and sovereign rights.

In the latest national posts of the Stratbase Institute conducted in partnership with Pulse Asia Research (Dec. 3-7, 2024), Filipinos agree the country should continue to work with like-minded states in addressing the security challenges and economic implications posed by increased tensions in the West Philippine Sea.

The respondents said the Marcos Jr. administration should work with the United States (79 percent), Australia (43 percent), and Japan (42 percent) to foster economic growth while upholding its 2016 Arbitral Victory.

Glaring in the survey results is that 9 out of 10 Filipinos are not in favor of working with China, which is not a surprise with all their aggressive coercive acts being instigated in the WPS.

Responsive to this overwhelming sentiment is President Marcos Jr’s rectification of his predecessors damaging appeasement policy and the majority (55 percent) of the people agree that his administration can fulfill their promise of protecting the West Philippine Sea against illegal and aggressive actions of other states during his term.

For the world to sustain the bounty and prosperity that marine resources have given to human civilization, and while there is still the opportunity, the international community must work together to forge a peace and stable world order that respects and abides by the rule of law.

Expert insights on how we can effectively confront these confluence of maritime, environmental, and geopolitical schisms will be the scope of deep discussions in two events this month organized by the Stratbase Institute.

The first is in partnership with the Embassy of Japan in the Philippines on the “The Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction Agreement and its Implications on the South China Sea” on Feb. 8 (Thursday) from 9:00 am to 11:30 am.

The following week there is another town hall discussion in partnership with the Embassy of Australia in the Philippines on the “Unveiling Asymmetric Challenges through Assertive Transparency” on Feb. 13, from 9:00 am to 11:30 am.

You are all welcome to watch the livestream of these events on the Stratbase ADR Institute Facebook page.

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