(The Philippine Star) | Updated November 22, 2012 - 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines - At the initiative of the Philippines, four claimants to territories in the West Philippine Sea will meet in Manila on Dec. 12 to explore how the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) can resolve the dispute among members.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said yesterday President Aquino had pushed the vice ministerial level talks among Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
“We did move forward an initiative when we said that we will endeavor to get the claimant states together and see how we could have a discussion in terms of how to address the issue,” he said.
“And I am happy to say that we have been successful in doing that. So there will be a beginning of four-party talks in Manila starting Dec. 12.”
Speaking to reporters, Del Rosario said the Philippines has been doing its best to keep the discussion within ASEAN and recommended the meeting as early as last year.
“But a good scenario is whether we can on a multilateral basis among the four of us discuss issues that confront the four claimants,” he said.
“If we can, for example, discuss the limitations and solutions to areas where we have disputes with each other, that certainly would be a good result of that initiative.”
Del Rosario said Aquino called on Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to withdraw their three vessels from Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal during the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
“The President called on our northern neighbor to respect our EEZ (exclusive economic zone) and withdraw their vessels which remain in Bajo de Masinloc,” he said.
“In accordance with UNCLOS and the DOC, the President called on all parties to respect the EEZ and continental shelf of all coastal states irrespective of their size or naval power.”
During the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Phnom Penh, Aquino raised his hand and interrupted a concluding speech of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to clarify that the Philippines disagreed with what was supposed to be a joint regional statement on relations with China.
Hun Sen acknowledged Aquino’s statement, which effectively meant that ASEAN again failed to reach a consensus on maritime territorial disputes with China.
I had a small part in the coming dialogue hosted by DODAI (that’s for 3rd Dialogue on Democracy and ASEAN Integration, with the theme of "Democracy and Governance in ASEAN: Experiences, Challenges and Prospects") where I was asked my views on a variety of issues. I regret not being able to address these issues in person because I think my replies will more likely excite disagreement or discussion than acquiescence, but here goes.
1. What does freedom of speech/expression mean?
Freedom of speech and expression is just what it says, a freedom without limit to speak or express in some other fashion whatever an individual wants, without prior restraint exercised by the state or any other person than the one who seeks to speak or express herself. In short, the only restraint I can imagine as permissible is self-restraint provided it is not induced by fear of harm from the state or another person. It may be induced by good taste, no fading in its influence, tact, conscience or belief secular or religious. Speech takes the form of words of course but expression may issue in any form—sound, color, words, gestures, whatever conveys a message of idea or feeling. It may use any medium, paper, light and sound, electric impulses, whatever. There are no limits and there never were limits to this freedom. But there are and there should be consequences; even of some severity if they cause harm to others who do not owe the speaker any account of himself. No court should nor could stop a man from falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater but he will be prosecuted for any harm or damage caused. No man can be prevented from scrawling the schedule of transports and posting them on a wall, thereby alerting the enemy to critical military movements but he must be prepared to face a firing squad as a consequence. There are no limits in a democratic or any other society except those imposed by force, such as isolation in a windowless cell or the ultimate censorship of a bullet in the back of the head. An individual is free to say anything however derogatory of the state or a private individual but, if there is a law, he could be prosecuted for sedition or libel after he has spoken but never before. A king may move a man but not his conscience, said the knight to the leper king of Jerusalem. Its provenance is a law of Edward II.
2. Freedom of speech and expression is important in itself because it is an essential part of what it is to be human.
It is not important for its possible contribution to democratic discourse. The invectives of a hippie are as important, at least to him about what he thinks of society, as the more carefully articulated views of a Founding Father are important to his desire to form a more perfect union. The biggest cost of denying this freedom is what it does the person who is denied it: it amputates an essential part of his human being and human flourishing. Rarely do citizens, and even less officials, have anything to say that is important in advancing the safety, security or progress of societies; more often than not what they have to say is trivial or of interest only to their small circle of friends or co-conspirators. To be sure, there are occasions when what people have to say about how their societies should be run, to what better purposes—such as their own pressing needs—society’s resources might be devoted, what are the wrongs that should be righted and what rights should be upheld and enforced. But the greater part of the value of these utterances pertains to the dignity they impart to the individual who makes them than to the uses they may have for society. And that is why freedom of speech and expression is paramount; why it should never be restrained; though were it causes hurt or damage it should as unfailingly be punished.
3. What does political participation mean?
Political participation means the freedom to affect, by means that cause no physical harm to others though they may occasion distress to them, the direction of political affairs, the manner that societies are governed and the power to do it to with an effect proportioned to importance to himself of the purpose for which a person politically participates, without having to weigh the importance, if any, that others may assign to that purpose. In short, it is every man politically participating for himself and let the devil take the hindmost.
4. Political participation is important if you fully realize yourself through it.
If one foregoes it one ceases to be a human actor in society and becomes an object of the actions of others. To be sure, a person’s rights in this regard and others are not sustained by their continuous exercise and lost by inanition for any length of time. In his inaction and even self-isolation, his rights must still be protected even if he diminishes himself in relation to the active members of society. This self-demotion by withdrawal from politics can never be permanent, as some ASEAN despotism believe. It is instantly rescinded the moment an individual decides that he will be active again. It is a right and a dignity that may be weakened by inanition but never lost by desuetude. It inheres in the individual and doesn’t even cease upon his death for he retains command, by law, over the disposal of his remains.
5. The forms of political participation are more than we can hope to enumerate exhaustively. And they are not delimited even by the good taste not to run naked around a bronze statue with the physical endowments the runner does not possess. The forms are not limited even by reasonable estimates of their probability of success or likelihood of failure. They are just what people do and should be allowed to do to affect their environments in the way they hope to.
6. Under no conditions should political participation be limited, though I know that there is a strong argument now against hate speech which the US Supreme Court has refused to curtail however hurtful it can be. There can be no conditions on political participation; it should not be denied even convicted criminals who should be encouraged to exercise it under conditions of of incarceration that they should have a voice in deciding. The right against cruel and unusual punishments precisely comes into play when all other rights may have ceased. But there must be consequences when political participation causes harm to another or damage to property or raises the risk of substantive and imminent harm to society.
7. My experiences as a journalist show that these freedoms can be exercised with much help and hardly any harm to others or to society.
My experiences as a subject of journalism have occasionally provoked comments from me, indicative of my total lack of concern for the killings of journalists. But that is just hyperbole. I oppose killing blackmailing journalists as much as I oppose killing a car thief. It is disproportional and I was one of the main movers of the abolition of the death penalty.
8. Journalists can play a vital role in promoting democracy in Southeast Asia or anywhere in the world where dictatorships suppress the aspiration for it or where democratically elected governments thwart is proper purposes.
Journalists can do this by not going along with watered-down versions of democracy and calling them nascent. No journalist should describe as democratic a polity that gives rather than acknowledges the right of the people to vote for what or whomever they choose, and who may choose with as much success of electing them candidates outside the government slate. That is not democratic and to call it burgeoning democracy is mental dishonesty and possibly financial as well for it happens with journalists enjoying the hospital from host dictatorships. Democracy has been defined so precisely it has probably been reduced to a mathematical equation somewhere. In that respect it is unmistakable unlike pornography which Justice Potter Steward was reduced to confessing he could not define but he would know it when he saw it.
9. ASEAN does not seek to build a community of caring and sharing societies, along with a single market and production base.
At best, a member hopes to live at peace with its neighbors because it can never hope to subjugate them nor take their riches with impunity though it must surely wish it could, given the character of most of its regimes and the composition of their ruling classes. Democracy might however introduce a popular element to feasible ASEAN aspirations such as a kind of common market by making sure that no government gives away more than its people are prepared to do without; such as jobs assigned to one country like cow’s milk to Holstein and goat cheese to Portugal. Democracy would lessen the risk of this happening though it will probably lessen the likelihood of achieving ASEAN aims as well. But then we must reconsider whether ASEAN is a precursor of a common market or just the new name of a failed or obsolete anti-communist military alliance. I think, at best, ASEAN means giving a communal name to the necessity of neighboring weak countries having to live at peace with each other because none of them can afford a war with any of the others.
Placing consensus above all, it is fair to say that Asean leaders are generally not known for their displays of emotion or passion.
Yet, in a crucial closed-door meeting in July, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario tried to tap those dormant qualities as he tried to rally his peers to stand up to China over the South China Sea.
Trying, in the words of one observer, “to bloody well wake them up,” Del Rosario quoted the famous lines from German theologian Martin Niemöller of the perils of doing nothing in the face of mounting tyranny. Describing how the Nazis, unopposed, first came for the communists and then the trade unionists, Niemöller said: “Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
Rarely has Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) heard such language within its staterooms. “It was classic Del Rosario,” said one Asean envoy. “He’s not afraid to appeal to our better selves … and he’s not afraid to stand up and be counted when it comes to the South China Sea.”
That meeting ended in unprecedented rancor as the 10 Southeast Asian foreign ministers failed to produce an annual communique for the first time in the grouping’s 45-year history. Meeting host Cambodia stood accused of doing Beijing’s bidding in shutting down debate over how to capture in the document regional concern over the South China Sea.
When Asean leaders met in Phnom Penh last month, Philippine President Benigno Aquino continued his foreign secretary’s theme. While he contradicted Cambodia’s public claims of an Asean deal—hailed by Beijing—not to “internationalize” the South China Sea dispute, he told his peers to stand united, according to one meeting transcript.
“If you don’t stand up when your neighbor’s rights are violated, then you set the stage for the violation of your own rights,” Aquino said.
This time Manila was more successful. With discreet backing from some of the grouping’s bigger players, including Indonesia and Vietnam, the claimed Cambodian deal never made it to the official closing statement.
But the broader issue of Asean’s push to start formal negotiations with China on a binding code of conduct to govern intensifying tensions across the South China Sea until territorial disputes can be solved remains, at best, a work in progress.
Chinese officials have made increasingly clear in recent weeks that they are wary of the influence of “outside powers,” particularly the United States and Japan, and resent the portrayal of the code as somehow being a means to contain and/or control China. Hopes that negotiations could start early in 2013 now appear to be in vain.
Sitting in his office—part of a complex on Manila’s Roxas Boulevard that overlooks the South China Sea—the courtly 73-year-old Del Rosario sounds frustrated yet sanguine as he reviews a bruising year of diplomacy at the forefront of the strategic shifts now upsetting the region.
Ultimately, he stresses, he wants to return Sino-Philippine relations to a previously agreed status quo where territorial disputes were kept to the side of a relationship that flourished across trade, social and political fronts—something he believes would ultimately serve China’s broader desires for a stable region.
“If there is a message I want to get across, that’s it,” he says.
Returning to that point will be no easy task, he acknowledges. The dispute over Scarborough Shoal—known in China as Huangyan Island or as Panatag Shoal to the Philippines—is now the focus of the relationship.
With Beijing still deriding “provocations” after a Philippine naval ship challenged Chinese fishermen early this year, Fu Ying, the vice minister for foreign affairs, recently told him that Beijing intended to keep Coast Guard-type vessels at the shoal permanently.
China has also used ropes to block access to the interior of the shoal, which falls within its controversial nine-dash line claim to virtually all of the South China Sea.
In some 36 rounds of consultations—“I’ve been counting them,” Del Rosario says—Beijing has also detailed in no uncertain terms what it expects from Manila. No “internationalization” means bilateral talks only, and nothing conducted via Asean, the United Nations or “outside partners”—particularly the Philippines’ long-term security ally, the United States.
The Aquino administration is clearly rejecting Beijing’s prescription. It is also renewing its strategic relationships, seeking to buttress its tiny and overstretched armed forces. US ships, submarines and military aircraft are suddenly visiting Philippines’ ports and airfields once again while discreet talks are also under way with Japan to acquire a fleet of state-of-the-art Coast Guard cutters. It is also working more closely with Indonesia and fellow South China Sea claimant Vietnam.
As eloquent as he can be at times, Del Rosario does not mince words when he talks about Beijing’s demands. “No sovereign country wants to be dictated to,” he says. “China is endeavoring to dictate to us how we should be behaving and what we should be doing. We feel that we ought to be able to use all the tools in the peaceful pursuit of resolution to [disputes] that is in accordance with our national interests.”
Those “tools” include a three-track approach by Manila—talks with Asean and international partners, bilateral diplomacy with Beijing and research into taking unilateral legal action to formally dispute China’s claim under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The latter, some analysts believe, would risk Beijing’s wrath, and extensive economic and diplomatic retaliation would be expected.
Del Rosario insists, however, that the long-term goal must be a “durable” legal and political solution, rather than brittle case-by-case efforts that do not tackle the broader issues. “Ultimately, I’m trying to be constructive.”
He says an effective Asean serves Chinese and US interests long-term and insists the organization remains strong. He dismisses the Phnom Penh tensions as “like a family disagreement … eventually you come together and emerge stronger.”
The challenges, of course, mean he occupies one of the hottest seats in regional diplomacy. While the New York-educated businessman and former ambassador to Washington is highly respected in the United States, he cuts a more controversial figure at home and in Beijing.
Some Filipino businessmen have questioned his tactics toward dealing with China while Sen. Antonio Trillanes, who is running a back channel to Beijing, has said Del Rosario has mishandled formal negotiations over Scarborough.
Del Rosario has, however, denied reports he will resign, and he apparently has Aquino’s backing.
Reports in China’s state media this week show just how tough a road lies ahead. In news stories outlining last week’s appointment to Beijing of new Philippine Ambassador Erlinda Basilio, mainland analysts and scholars made it clear that Beijing was in no mood to see Manila “stirring up trouble.”
Through it all, Del Rosario says he remains “basically an optimist.” While he ponders whether Beijing’s new leaders will be able to resist the demands of an assertive and nationalistic public, he says: “I’m hoping that China will recognize that being a responsible member of the international community would be a preferable choice to muscle.”
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei—Brunei will pursue a binding code of conduct among competing South China Sea claimants as a top priority during its Asean chairmanship, officials said Monday.
The tiny, oil-rich Muslim sultanate has assumed the chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations for 2013 at a time when tension over sweeping Chinese claims to the sea have rattled the region.
“Brunei sees this as a key threat to regional security and would like to resolve the issue through dialogue with all claimants, including China,” said a foreign ministry official, who declined to be named.
Asean members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan, also have claims to parts of what the Philippines calls West Philippine Sea, one of the world’s most important shipping lanes and believed to be rich in fossil fuels.
Simmering tensions over the issue have risen in the past two years, with the Philippines and Vietnam accusing China of becoming increasingly aggressive in staking its claims.
Cambodia’s 2012 ASEAN chairmanship was marked by sharp regional discord over the affair.
The rancor led to unprecedented infighting at an Asean foreign ministers’ meeting in Phnom Penh in July, which ended for the first time in the bloc’s 45-year history without a joint communique.
As chair, Cambodia—a close China ally—was accused of resisting efforts by the Philippines and Vietnam to take a more aggressive position against the Chinese.
Efforts to secure a legally binding code of conduct involving Asean and China have floundered for years amid Beijing’s insistence on handling disputes bilaterally with individual countries, while Asean wants to speak as a group.
China and Asean signed a broad declaration in 2002 pledging the parties would handle disputes peacefully and not take actions that threaten peace and stability.
During an Asean summit in November, the organization called on China to get serious in working toward a binding code of conduct.
Brunei will host Asean leader summits in April and October.
I loved that picture of the Asean foreign ministers clasping one another’s hands in solidarity that came out last weekend. The occasion was their meeting in Brunei last week. The people in the picture included Malaysia’s Anifah Aman, the Philippines’ Albert del Rosario, Singapore’s Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam, Thailand’s Surapong Tovichakchaikul and Vietnam’s Pham Binh Minh.
I loved the fact that the Kampuchean foreign minister was not there. During the last Asean summit held in Kampuchea, the host country proved little more than China’s mouthpiece, taking the Chinese position that any territorial dispute between China and any of the Asean countries should be resolved only through bilateral talks and not through a multilateral one (that is, by Asean negotiating with, or confronting, China, as a bloc). The Brunei meeting refuted that position.
I loved it that there was no American official hovering in the background or in the sidelines to spoil the view.
I loved it that the Asean representatives expressed themselves forcefully on the issue, led expectedly by Del Rosario. Del Rosario warned that China was ratcheting up its militarization of the region and that its “destabilizing actions” posed a serious threat to it. He took exception to China’s People’s Daily warning of a “counterstrike” against the Philippines if it should continue to embark on a path of confrontation, saying, “The statement is an irresponsible one. We condemn any threats of use of force.”
He said the Philippines would continue to pursue legal and diplomatic avenues to settle its row with China. Right now, it’s in talks with the other Asean countries to forge a Code of Conduct governing disputes, which China has agreed, or been forced, to consider, a departure from its previous insistence on bilateral negotiations.
The coming together of the Asean is a show of force in the best way that shows of force can be shown, which is as a moral force. At least it is the best way to meet China’s expansionism in that it entails the least compromises, the least repercussions, the least tradeoffs, particularly one where the loss offsets the gain.
China’s expansionism is real and obdurate. You recognize a rising power drifting toward an imperialist path when it starts fencing off a presumed backyard, however that backyard includes territories belonging to other countries. You recognize a rising power embarking on an imperialist path when it starts asserting a Monroe Doctrine, or variations thereof, officially or unofficially, in the name of protecting itself.
China’s expansionism is real and obdurate, but it cannot be met in a non-calibrated way, a non-nuanced way, a gung-ho way. The latter is what the military alliance with the United States (and Japan) to protect our claim in the Spratlys is. The latter is what offering the United States indefinite—read permanent—access to our bases is.
There is no lack of example from art and life, from history and action movie, of a community depending on, or securing the services of, a savior, only to see that savior turn on it after the savior has chased the menace away. The savior turned predator, or the blessing turned into a curse, is one of the themes of the westerns, ironically—for us—a favorite genre of the old generation, the Cold War generation. That’s the one about a terrorized town hiring a marshal or gunfighter to fight off the bad guys only to have that marshal or gunfighter take over and oppress the town afterward.
The only difference in our case being that the marshal or gunfighter is not unknown to us, he is a well-known quantity. He is the old kingpin who grabbed our town a long time ago, whom we kicked out for being greedy and abusive. We know that the Americans seized this country from our revolutionaries, we know that we fought for the Americans during the Japanese Occupation, we know they repaid those who did by not recognizing them. And we want to bring them back as our savior?
From our own end, or through our own folly, we know that to this day we are still struggling to be independent not just in body but in mind. We know that to this day the “global outlook” we pride ourselves in having is nothing more or less than the same “colonial mentality” we’ve always had, “global” meaning for us basketball, an Americanized first name, and a heartland called America. We know we’ve just begun to emerge from this mental, psychological, and moral cocoon after we dumped the US bases, seeing for the first time where we are, which is in Asia, seeing for the first time what we are, which is Asians. And we want to plunge right back into the Dark Ages?
China has to be stopped. But we cannot afford to do it by jumping from the frying pan into the fire. P-Noy has repeatedly said that the last three years of his term will be devoted to leaving a lasting legacy to this country. He has been doing very well all this time, pushing back corruption farther than any of his predecessors has done, lifting the economy far higher than any of his predecessors has done, firing up the people’s imagination more frenziedly than any of his predecessors has done. But this tack of dealing with China threatens to undo a good deal of it.
The regression to the time of “special relations,” a long period in our history that from hindsight gives supremely ironic meanings to the word “special”—it was special only in the one-sidedness of the mutuality—is powerful enough to displace the accomplishments. Heaven forbid that at the end of the day, or long after P-Noy has gone, he will be remembered as the president who pushed us forward in body farther than we had hoped but pulled us back in spirit farther than we had expected.
What a difference a year—or, more to the point, a new host—makes. At around this time last year, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations reeled from an unexpected scandal: the failure for the first time to issue a joint communiqué after a leaders’ summit. China had pressured host Cambodia, its close ally, not to allow any mention of the South China Sea disputes in the traditional closing statement; both the Philippines and Vietnam vigorously objected, but in the end Cambodia chose to side, not with its Asean partners, but with China.
Chinese overreach had immediate regional consequences. Beijing’s aggressive conduct in the South China Sea attracted renewed international attention. Cambodia felt the urgent need to repair its relations with neighboring Vietnam, one of the claimant countries. Not least, the largest Asean member, Indonesia, began a form of shuttle diplomacy, with support from Singapore, to try to repair the unexpected damage to Asean unity.
This Indonesian initiative, it became clear over the weekend, during the Asean summit hosted by Brunei, has effectively strengthened Asean’s resolve to commit China to a binding “code of conduct,” one which will govern maritime disputes as well as maritime cooperation in the region.
“We have to have the code of conduct,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said in Bandar Seri Begawan. “Otherwise, uncertainty will prevail.”
With new Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi taking part in Asean exchanges for the first time, the association reached an agreement with Beijing to begin official consultations on the code of conduct, to lead to formal talks in September.
The language of the communiqué is worth a close read. The 90th paragraph of a 98-paragraph communiqué reads in full: “We discussed the situation and recent developments in the South China Sea. In this regard, we appreciated the exchange of views on the issues including initiatives and approaches to enhance trust, confidence and dialogue, and address incidents in the South China Sea. We also noted suggestions for a hotline of communication, as well as search and rescue of persons and vessels in distress. We further reaffirmed the importance of peace, stability, and maritime security in the region. We underscored the importance of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), ASEAN’s Six-Point Principles on the South China Sea, and the ASEAN-China Joint Statement on the 10th Anniversary of the DOC. In this regard, we reaffirmed the collective commitments under the DOC to ensuring the resolution of disputes by peaceful means in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, without resorting to the threat or use of force, while exercising self-restraint in the conduct of activities.”
This is exactly the Philippine position, and it is good to see it restated in an official Asean statement. Even more important for resolving regional tensions is the last sentence of the next paragraph: “Taking into account the importance of the 10th anniversary of the ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership in 2013, we look forward to the formal consultations between ASEAN and China at the SOM [Senior Officials’ Meeting] level on the COC [Code of Conduct] with an aim to reach an early conclusion of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, which will serve to enhance peace, stability and prosperity in the region.”
It may be that Cambodia has realized that its membership in the Asean loses much of its potency if it is perceived as a mere Chinese proxy; it may be that Sultan Bolkiah of Brunei has put his entire weight behind the Indonesian initiative; it may be that Chinese assertiveness in advancing its claims to almost the entire South China Sea, and the refusal of both the Philippines and Vietnam to back down, has had the effect of strengthening Asean conviction about its “centrality in the evolving regional architecture”—in the words of the communiqué.
Whatever the reason, China has finally heard from Asean again on the vexing issue of competing maritime claims in the South China Sea. That is no small thing.
PH, Indonesia, Malaysia seal fisheries pact covering Sulu-Celebes Sea
By Kristine Angeli Sabillo
12:37 am | Thursday, October 31st, 2013
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia on Wednesday signed a fisheries management agreement in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, in a bid to promote sustainable production in the Sulu-Celebes Sea.
Signed by the countries’ respective agriculture and fisheries agencies, the Regional Strategic Action Program aims to protect the Sulu-Celebes Sea which is within the jurisdiction of the three nations and among the 200 most critical eco-regions in the world.
Signatories to the commitment were Dr. Sudirman Sa’ad, Director General of Marine, Coast and Small Islands, Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) from Indonesia; Datuk Ujang Sulanim, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry Sabah from Malaysia; and Atty. Asis G. Perez, Director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) from the Philippines.
“Much support is still needed to implement the regional program ranging from funding support to informed local participation and action,” said Datuk Rayner Stuel Galid, current Chair of the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion (SSME) Sub-Committee on Sustainable Fisheries.
He applauded the program which takes on “the challenging task to undertake marine biodiversity conservation in the Sulu-Celebes Sea.”
The signing of the program was the culmination of a two-year process that involved consultations with stakeholders, experts and agencies. It is based on common problems besetting the area and their potential impact on the 40 million people residing in the region.
The Sulu-Celebes Sea is in the region that harbors the highest marine biodiversity among the world’s oceans. It has an annual potential fish yield of 675,380 metric tons which provides food for the region.
However, recent studies showed that overfishing has resulted in the decline of fish size and catch.
“The decline in fishery resources, in addition to the fast growth of the population, greatly affects the economic situation of these fishing communities,” a joint statement on the program said.
The program will focus on the conservation of small fishes such as sardines, long-jawed mackerel, big-eye and round scads, and frigate mackerel which are most abundant in the area.
“By focusing our conservation plan on small pelagic fisheries, we ensure that the welfare of economically marginalized communities is being taken care of. Small pelagic fishes like sardines, scads and mackerel do not only provide source of income to fishers but they are also the more affordable protein source for lower income population in the region,” United Nations Office for Special Services regional project manager Romeo Trono said.