The ocean is the common heritage of humankind

(Philippine statement delivered by Ambassador Teddy Locsin Jr. on December 5, 2017 at the United Nations General Assembly, New York.)

The Philippines thanks Mr. Them-bile Joyini of South Africa and Mr. Andreas Kravik of Norway for coordinating the annual resolutions on Oceans and the Law of the Sea and on Sustainable Fisheries.

We are poised again to adopt these twin resolutions as the most massive and comprehensive subject that this Assembly considers year after year. We need only to recall the image of our planet in space to understand why: a pale blue planet floating in space because over two-thirds of the surface is water. And one-half of that surface is high seas, beyond the jurisdiction of any state; ideally beyond the grasp of commercial greed and acquisitive ambition for the heritage of mankind and the only promise of its long future. The Romans called the Mediterranean “Mare Nostrum.” Today, in the words of Paul, “Civis Romanus sum” — We are all Romans and all the world’s seas are ours.

Last June, we affirmed, through our Oceans Conference Call for Action, our strong commitment to conserve and sustainably use our oceans, seas and marine resources pursuant to Sustainable Development Goal 14; to raise global awareness of the threat to the oceans; to reverse the seemingly unstoppable decline of the ocean’s vitality; and to mobilize global partnerships for these purposes.

Sustainable ocean management is key for an archipelagic country like the Philippines. Indeed, it is the key to the health of any country, advanced or developing. Oceans are not only a source of life-giving goods; everything about it is living. Plow the fertile land but the air above is barren. Farm the oceans and the very medium breathed by denizens of the deep is alive; every drop teems with life. Oceans are whence we came; from thence the Book of Common Prayer summons us all back to eternal life— “when the sea shall give up its dead.” Our friend Peter Thomson said, “When it comes to the ocean, it’s the common heritage of humankind. There’s no North-South, East-West when it comes to the ocean. If the ocean is dying, it’s dying on all of us.”

As a party to the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement, the Philippines is committed to the conservation of, and sustainable access to straddling and highly migratory fish stocks—within and beyond the exclusive economic zone. It is likewise committed to management of those stocks based on the precautionary approach and the best available scientific information. Equally are we committed to eliminating illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and the subsidies that encourage over-fishing leading to the irreversible decline of marine life.

Our collective neglect—or to be accurate, our greedy exhaustion of the oceans’ resources for immediate gain and at the cost of irreversible damage has resulted, not only in ever smaller fisheries catch, in the worsening illicit trafficking in protected species, but also in ocean acidification, coral bleaching, sea-level rise, and coastal flooding, and deadlier tropical cyclones brought on by ocean warming.

Mr. President, business cannot go on as usual.

Among the threats to the oceans, climate change stands out. Our experience, particularly with super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, confirms this. In the Philippines, rising sea levels are three times the global average. At this rate, we will eventually lose 167,000 hectares of our coastline, more than twice the size of New York City. We are using the ridge-to-reef approach toward the sustainable management of our natural resources, while targeting the mining industry as the main culprit. We seek to reverse the adverse impacts of the alteration and destruction of marine habitats from land-based and coastal development. This is consistent with our obligations under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

UNCLOS is the key to ensuring global and regional peace in the fair and sustainable use of the oceans. It represents a delicate balance of the rights and obligations of all States Parties to what none of them can claim as exclusively its own for any use they choose. In this spirit, the Philippines upholds the primacy of international law as the only foundation of a rules-based and therefore enduring regional and international order. Might is useful to enforce right but it can never, ever, substitute for right.

The Philippines supports the strengthening of capacity-building, along with the transfer of marine technology, education, and the sharing of traditional knowledge on oceans issues, including in the prevention of the smuggling of migrants and human trafficking by sea, and in fighting piracy. When God created heaven and earth the oceans were there already covered in darkness; His breath hovering over the face of the waters. Then He said, “Let there be light.” The oceans therefore cannot be used for dark purposes. We reaffirm our support for the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, and the International Seabed Authority; and recognize no other authority but them.

If we cherish this pale blue pearl as befits its value to the survival of humanity, a billion years from now mankind may stand on another planet and look up at the night sky. And there…there see the bright ball of flaming gas that was our sun, swallowing our first home, and say, “Because we took good care of it, that bright blue pearl took care of us long enough for us to reach a place of greater safety on another pale blue planet circling another sun.” Thank you.





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