House bill seeks to declare parts of West Philippine Sea as marine protected areas

House bill seeks to declare parts of West Philippine Sea as marine protected areasHundreds of Chinese fishing vessels, which seem to be part of China's maritime militia, have been swarming the vicinity of Pag-asa Island and nearby islands in the West Philippine Sea. The military earlier said the foreign vessels might be monitoring rehabilitation efforts on Pag-asa Island. Google Maps

MANILA, Philippines — A lawmaker in the House of Representatives has filed a bill that seeks to protect parts of the West Philippine Sea from “destructive human exploitation” by declaring these as marine protected areas.

Under House Bill No. 6373, Rep. Edward Hagedorn (Palawan, 3rd District) wants to declare all areas within three nautical miles from the baselines surrounding the Kalayaan Island Group and Scarborough Shoal as marine protected areas.


Philippines mulls declaring Pag-asa Island, Eastern Kalayaan marine protected areas

The bill provides that the following are prohibited within the proposed protected area in the West Philippine Sea:

  • Possessing or using any fishing or harvesting gear and practices that destroy coral reefs, seagrass beds or other marine life
  • Dumping or using any toxic chemical, noxious or poisonous substance or nonbiodegradable material, untreated sewage or animal waste products, including pesticides and other hazardous substances
  • Littering or depositing refuse or debris
  • Possessing or using blasting caps or explosives
  • Undertaking mineral exploration or extraction
  • Establishing or introducing exotic species including genetically modified organisms or invasive alien species
  • Constructing any kind of structure, fence or enclosure unless for biosphere development
  • Any other act that will tend to or actually result in the disturbance, killing, destruction, endangerment, devastation, or annihilation of the natural flora and fauna

The bill cites the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas, particularly Article 123 which requires coastal states in semi-enclosed seas like the South China Sea to cooperate with each other in the exercise of their rights and duties under the treaty.

The Philippines has overlapping claims with other states, including China, over parts of the South China Sea. For Manila, the portion of the disputed waters that it claims is called the West Philippine Sea.

“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,” Hagedorn said.

He added, “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.”

Hermogenes Esperon Jr., the national security adviser during the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte, said in 2019 that the government was “looking into the possibility” of declaring Pag-asa Island and Eastern Kalayaan as marine protected areas.

Esperon said the declaration would promote efforts towards environmental and marine biodiversity protection in the West Philippine Sea.

The declaration of these areas as marine protected never happened during the Duterte administration, which, in its foreign policy pivot towards China, was criticized for being too soft on the issue of the West Philippine Sea.