World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines called on the government to declare the West Philippine Sea as a national marine protected area.
Citing the recommendation of environmental policy and governance expert Ben Malayang III, WWF-Philippines called on the state to declare West Philippine Sea as a “protected seascape through existing instruments and mechanisms.”
The group also wanted to include the West Philippine Sea in the ASEAN Heritage Park Protected Area system and the UNESCO World Heritage List.
This call was made amid the continued encroachment activities of China in the West Philippine Sea which negatively impacts the environment.
The group said the Philippines has lost 16,000 hectares of reef area in the disputed waters. The area has the same size as Quezon City.
RELATED: Philippines concerned over report of China construction on reefs
According to the group, the West Philippine Sea is vital to the economy and food supply as it accounts for 27% of the country’s commercial fisheries production.
RELATED: Damage caused by China in West Philippine Sea could affect food security — scientists
The group said that carbon in the West Philippine Sea controls pollution and maintenance of other elements which are important in the productivity and stability of the area.
Since 2014, China has conducted large-scale island reclamation, turning reefs into military bases and claiming these as part of its territory.
However, the landmark 2016 ruling of The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration concluded that China’s claim to almost the entire South China Sea was groundless.
On Monday, February 13, Philippine Coast Guard accused China of harassment, after one of its coast guard vessels pointed a military-grade laser at the BRP Malapascua in the West Philippine Sea.
RELATED: Philippines urges China to halt any ‘provocative act’ after laser aimed at vessel
Following this, other countries have rallied behind the Philippines. Japan and Australia have also recently expressed their interest to join multilateral maritime patrols with the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea.
RELATED: Countries rally behind Philippines in maritime incidents with China | Japan, Australia may conduct South China Sea patrols with U.S., Philippines – ambassador
“No armed tension in history anywhere has ever registered gains in natural or social values. We stand for peace while affirming our position to protect WPS, which is an irreplaceable part of not just our territory but who we are, as a people,” WWF-Philippines said.
“Declaring the West Philippine Sea as a marine protected area is a definitive move in the service of life – ours and the marine environment it vitally depends on,” the environmental group concluded.