The June 9 hit-and-run of Philippine fishing boat Gem-Ver by a Chinese vessel at Reed Bank or Recto Bank has metamorphosed from an "ordinary maritime accident" into a concrete example of greed and unsustainable development in the West Philippine Sea.
Now, the Filipino people have been made more aware about how other countries, not just China, are heavily exploiting the rich marine resources in the West Philippine Sea, including the Reed Bank, which is within the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and in Scarborough Shoal or Panatag Shoal.
According to Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VRIS) data analyzed by fisheries group, Karagatan Patrol, there has been a big increase in the number of large vessels in the West Philippine Sea from 2012 to 2019. The group lamented the Philippine government's weak monitoring capability and lax enforcement of laws in the Philippines' EEZ. There is also greater encroachment in the Philippines' municipal waters (within 15 kilometers from the coastline) reserved for marginalized fisherfolk, leading to lower fish catch of local fishermen.
Last week, Deo Florence Onca, an expert at the University of the Philippines (UP) Marine Science Institute, calculated the damaged reef ecosystem at Scarborough Shoal and other areas in the Spratlys to be worth P33.1 billion a year. Chinese fishermen were recently caught harvesting giant clams in Scarborough Shoal.
Maritime experts said China's massive reclamation to create 7 artificial islands in the South China Sea caused the most damage to the ecosystem. Professor Jay Batongbacal of the UP Institute of Maritime Affairs and the Laws of the Sea estimates that in Scarborough Shoal, if reef destruction continues, the fishery resources there would be depleted in 5 years.
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio also pointed out last week how unequal the reported verbal deal between President Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping was of allowing Filipino fishermen access to Scarborough Shoal in exchange for allowing fishermen to exploit resources in the Philippines' EEZ, including in Reed Bank.
Carpio said the size of Reed Bank is 8,660 square kilometers while Scarborough Shoal is only 150 square kilometers. He agreed that China, with its much larger fishing boats compared to what Filipino fishermen use, could quickly deplete the marine resources in Reed Bank
The UP Marine Science Institute has urged all parties to stop the unsustainable use of resources in the South China Sea, and to establish multilateral protected areas. It also pushed for scientific cooperation on joint studies and expeditions in the South China Sea.
Filipinos must continue to pursue this advocacy for food security, while those engaged in unsustainable development (including perhaps our own citizens) must moderate or control their greed.