FNI, UP MSI, MERF and US Embassy Manila Convened a Webinar on Improving Filipino MSR Framework
The second installment of the three-part “Track 1.5 Dialogue on Marine Scientific Research (MSR)” webinar series was conducted last June 17, 2022.
The webinar was divided into two panels. The first panel focused on the Philippine MSR Process, moderated by Atty. Pia Beñosa, Research Associate at the Center for International Law - National University of Singapore, and the second panel focused on the Framework of MSR in the Philippines, moderated by Professor Herman Kraft, Chairperson at the UP Department of Political Science.
During her welcoming remarks, FNI Member and Miriam College President Ret. Amb. Laura Del Rosario highlighted the importance of marine scientific research and how it affects human survival. She also stressed on the importance of involving national government agencies, think tanks, and academe in crafting the MSR process and framework in the country and striking a balance on the Philippines’ MSR process and framework.
Dr. Theresa Mundita Lim, Executive Director of the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, also delivered a welcome message for the webinar participants. She shared how MSR outputs for national efforts may be projected and analyzed as part of regional data. This, in turn, helps in the regional scientific work as research and data gathering on the framework for scientists contributes to accelerating and harnessing knowledge in ocean science. With ASEAN’s vast seas, oceans and coastlines, it hosts diverse species with key industries in fisheries, tourism, shipping, etc that contribute to the well-being of 65 million people. Dr. Lim highlights the need for scientific research and cooperation between scientists and the private sector in the ASEAN region. She endorses science-based decision making and developments in climate change action and pandemic recovery.
Panel 1: Philippine MSR Process
The first panel’s resource speaker was Dr. Ma. Carmen Lagman, Professor and University Research Fellow at De La Salle University. The three reactors of Dr. Lagman’s presentation were: Dr. Cesar Villanoy, Professor at the UP Marine Science Institute, Ms. Sandra Victoria Arcano, Division Chief of the Fisheries Management Division at the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) of the Department of Agriculture, and Atty. Gloria Ramos, Vice President of Oceana Philippines.
Dr. Lagman shared her presentation titled “Marine Scientific Research: A Practical Experience.” She emphasizes the need for training and developing common methods of data-gathering to help lessen monitoring of tasks. She also asserted that genetic resources are properties of the state. It is the state that has the right to reserve utilization of the resources and exclude others from using them, make utilization based on conditions, and share material and immaterial benefits. She also shared that discussions on shared resources are becoming more prominent.
Dr. Villanoy noted some issues with the Philippine MSR process. There is a slow evaluation and consent approval process; thus he specifically wants to improve response time. There were cases where consent was denied days before departure. There is also a need for “true” collaboration by providing support for local scientists and involvement at the planning stage. To be not just observers. There is also a need to increase capacity for open ocean oceanography and, lastly, to develop frameworks for monitoring and regulating non-ship based research.
Ms. Arcamo shared the government perspective, specifically on sustainable fisheries management. She noted that BFAR took an ecosystem approach and highlighted that fisheries were conducted under the national basis under the constitution. She also warned of declining fishery resources. It's important to increase the efforts that target and look for solutions to the problems on fishery resources, which MSRs can contribute to. Sustainability financing for fish sanctuaries /MPAs, law enforcement activities, and livelihoods should be prioritized. The challenge is to entice conservation on the premise of biodiversity alongside the well-being of humanity. There should be a balance between ocean health and human well-being, along with good governance.
Atty. Ramos spoke of the various contributions to MSR made by Oceana, a non-profit organization. Their research helped pave the way for 2018 legislation to recognize Benham Bank and Philippine Rise as marine resource reserves. Collaboration at the local and international levels were what made this possible. Oceana has also helped combat illegal fishing and established an online platform for satellite access. Atty. Ramos highlighted that Oceana’s policies have helped municipal policies that the Department of the Interior and Local Government adopted.
Panel 2: Framework of MSR in the Philippines
The second panel featured as its resource speaker Assistant Secretary Maria Angela Ponce of the Maritime and Ocean Affairs Office of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). The three reactors of Assec. Ponce’s presentation were: Atty. Fretti G. Ganchoon, Senior State Counsel at the Department of Justice, Dr. Jay Batongbacal, Director of the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, and Dr. Fernando Siringan, a Professor at the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute.
Asec. Ponce described the framework of MSR in the Philippines.
As noted by the reactors, there is no standard definition of MSR provided by UNCLOS. In 1995, the DFA released guidelines for MSR: Application must be done 6 months prior to actual research, at least one Filipino scientist must be present, and the research be shared with the Philippine government. These applications are conducted through official channels via the DFA, and then assessed by the MSR-Technical Working Group, the inter-agency body composed of seventeen public and private entities.
Atty. Ganchoon noted that the Philippine constitution is taken into account due to national security reasons. She argued that the concept of “implied consent” allowed under UNCLOS for MSR applications be avoided as much as possible. A permanent body needs to be in place to evaluate all applications. Furthermore, MSR applications specific to the West Philippine Sea and the Philippine Rise must go through entities such as the National Security Council. Atty. Ganchoon mentioned the need for the Philippines to have better maritime security (an automatic identification system for research vessels or security escorts) to safeguard both MSR scientists and the country’s general security.
Dr. Batongbacal provided several points of consideration which encompass agreement for the participation of Filipino scientists in the process and the need for maritime security. He argued that the parameters of MSR in UNCLOS are meant to promote cooperation and participation. A “purely security-based approach” would be detrimental as it could hamper opportunities of capacity-building with foreign researchers. That said, he also stressed that the Philippines must screen through the applications with vigilance as foreign entities can use these MSRs to project their power and undermine the Philippines’ sovereignty.
Dr. Siringan discussed the need for government support and efficiency in the process. He called for mechanisms to be put in place to alert the government of MSR misconduct, the fast-tracking of the application process, and the need for more local MSR initiatives. There was also an emphasis on the participation of young Filipino scientists and the need for them to be given opportunities.
MERF President Dr Ma. Vanessa Baria-Rodriguez provided closing remarks and thanked the organizers and speakers alike. She mentions that MERF is committed to support MRS through collaborations with local and foreign groups. She hopes that this event will further initiate further productive and fruitful collaborations.
The third and final webinar will highlight past and current MSR activities done in the West Philippine Sea and the wider South China Sea. Stay tuned for an announcement in the coming months!
Organizers of this event are the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI), the Foundation for the National Interest (FNI), the Marine Environment and Resources Foundation, Inc. (MERF), and the US Embassy in Manila.