Experts warn sharing West PH Sea with China will deplete resources

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 3) — Resources in the West Philippine Sea will be depleted fast if the government does not prevent China from exploiting the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), scientists and environmental advocates warned.

“China has 15,000 fishing vessels...so hindi po tayo nagbibiro pag sinabi natin na pag pumasok sila at di natin sila pinigilan, malamang maubos nila ang pangisdaan sa WPS sa loob ng ilang taon lamang," Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said in a forum on Wednesday.

[Translation: China has 15,000 fishing vessels... so we are not kidding when we say that if they come and we don't stop them, they would deplete the fisheries in the West Philippine Sea in a few years' time.]

To make things worse, experts believe Chinese poachers also destroy the reefs that provide shelter for the marine resources.

Kaya nakakagalit dahil habang nag-uusap tayo sinasabi natin na ire-resolba na peacefully through negotiations, 'yun pala inuubos na ng kabila yung pinaguusapan natin," Batongbacal said.

[Translation: That's why it really angers us that while we are talking to resolve the issue peacefully through negotiations, the subject of our discussions are already being deterioated.]

President Rodrigo Duterte is criticized for entering into an agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping, allowing Chinese fishermen in the Philippines' EEZ. Government officials are divided on whether the verbal agreement should be binding, but the President has made it clear the 2016 deal allows Chinese fishing in Recto Bank or Reed Bank, an underwater feature within the country's EEZ, in exchange for Filipino fishermen being allowed to enter Scarborough Shoal.

The Philippines lost Scarborough Shoal after a controversial standoff with China in 2012, prompting Manila to file a case for international arbitration, which it won. The arbitration under the auspices of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague concluded that China has no basis for its claim to practically the entire South China Sea. The tribunal said China violated Filipinos' traditional fishing rights in Scarborough Shoal, and recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights in some areas within its 200-nautical mile EEZ that China is claiming. The government calls areas the Philippines either claims or occupies in the disputed South China Sea as West Philippine Sea.

China rejects the arbitral ruling, while the Duterte administration says enforcing it would result in a war with the East Asian giant.

READ: Duterte's stance on EEZ: Filipinos' lives more important than property

Maritime experts said Filipino fishermen and their families will suffer if the government fails to protect the country's EEZ and reserve it to the exclusive use of Filipinos, as mandated by the Constitution.

"More than 50 percent of the population, more than 50 percent of all municipalities, more than 50 percent of all provinces are located on the coast. Ibig sabihin maraming Pilipino talaga nakadepende doon sa yamang dagat (That means many Filipinos depend on marine resources)," Deo Onda of the UP Marine Science Institute said.

Marine preservation group Oceana is urging the government to invest in a vessel monitoring system to track the behavior of fishing vessels within and outside the country’s waters.

“Hindi totoong kailangan (It not true that it's needed that) you spend billions of pesos for monitoring your ocean. Kailangan gawin na natin ang teknolohiya, kelangan transparent (We need technology, we need to be transparent), we are data deficient," Oceana Philippines vice president Gloria Ramos said.