MANILA - The United States will step up its partnership with the Philippines to promote sustainable fishing practices and counter illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the West Philippine Sea, its embassy in Manila said Thursday.
The West Philippine Sea is the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea, a major trade route that is also believed to hold valuable oil and gas deposits.
In a virtual media roundtable on Earth Day, US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires John Law said Washington is also working with Manila to “strengthen the country’s maritime domain awareness and ability to secure its territory.”
Law said this would be done through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
“There is no greater existential threat to the environment and livelihood of fisherfolk than the destruction of the rich marine ecosystem in the West Philippine Sea," said Law.
"[The] United States shares Philippine concerns over IUU fishing and environmental destruction perpetrated in Philippine waters,” he added.
He also pointed out that the value of illegally caught fish in Philippine waters is estimated to be at P63-billion a year, as reportedly recently by the USAID and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).
"In addition to supporting environmental initiatives, United States is also working with the Philippines to strengthen the country’s maritime domain awareness and ability to secure its territory. As Secretary Blinken has said, United States believes a strong US-Philippine alliance is vital to a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
On Wednesday, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) announced that they are "exhausting all means" to protect the country's territory and EEZ.
NTF-WPS also said the government is ramping up development efforts with an P8.8-billion program for the "environmental protection, security, safety and sustainable development" in Kalayaan.
The US embassy’s Environment, Science, Technology and Health (ESTH) Unit chief Claire Bea said the US is ready to assist the Philippines in programs that focuses on caring for marine resources in the West Philippine Sea and the livelihood there.
Bea said the world's largest economy is also "eager" to ensure that the Philippines can freely access its own resources in the West Philippine Sea.
"We are very aware of the biodiversity, the environmental richness that exist in the West Philippine Sea as well as other Philippine waters. And we are eager to make sure that the Philippines can access their waters, can access the resources there, can conserve and make decisions about the resources within their waters,” she said.
The US is expected to increase ways to cooperate with countries to meet climate targets over the next year.
It is the biggest contributor to the green climate fund intended to help countries meet targets under the Paris climate accord.
Hundreds of Chinese ships have been sighted at the West Philippine Sea since early March, and have remained there despite repeated instructions from top Philippine officials to leave.
The Department of Foreign Affairs filed a number of diplomatic protests against Beijing over the incursions.
China's sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea had been adjudged by a UN-backed arbitration court to have no legal basis.