Lawmakers have filed a bill to declare all low-tide elevations and high-tide features, and an area of three nautical miles around the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) and Scarborough Shoal as a Marine Protected Area (MPA).
Palawan Rep. Edward Hagedorn said Bill No. 6373 is seen to strengthen the protection and preservation of the atolls, coral reefs, and other vital marine resources in the area.
Hagedorn said the protection of the environment and natural resources in the West Philippine Sea should also be prioritized by the Philippines.
“We must learn to cooperate as one region in the protection of our natural resources while we settle the territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea. The protection of the rich marine resources and environment of the West Philippine Sea is a shared interest and responsibility of all adjoining states around the South China Sea which should be a guiding policy for all of us in the region,” he said.
“We all stand to gain or to lose depending on the outcome of our collective actions while we settle our territorial disputes. Through this bill, we hope for the Philippines to help initiate and spark this regional cooperation,” he added.
Palawan First District Rep. Edgardo Salvame and Palawan Second District Rep. Jose Chavez Alvarez also co-authored the HB 6373.
The bill cited Republic Act No. 11038 or the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas
System Act of 2018 and the Arbitral Ruling in seeking to declare the said areas as a Marine Protected Area.
The explanatory note also cited a 2012 study by Rudolf de Groot, et. al., which stated that coral reefs are our “single most valuable ecosystem.”
“A hectare, or about 2.5 acres, of reef can produce a potential value of approximately US $350,000 a year. The coral reefs in the Spratlys, which serve as the breeding ground of fish in the South China Sea, comprise 34 percent of the world’s total coral reefs, despite the South China Sea occupying only 2.5 percent of world’s total ocean and sea surface,” it read.
“As such, the South China Sea is one of the richest marine areas in the world which is the home to diverse marine ecosystems with over 3,000 species of fish and 600 species of coral reef,” it added.
The explanatory note also mentioned how some activities by surrounding states borne out of territorial disputes like overfishing, poaching, and large-scale ocean filling or reclamation, among others, led to significant environmental degradation in the area.
Image credits: AP/Aaron Favila