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FULL SUMMARY: Track 1.5 Dialogue on Marine Scientific Research (MSR), Part 3

Updated: Nov 21, 2022

The third and final installment of the three-part “Track 1.5 Dialogue on Marine Scientific Research (MSR)” series was a hybrid event composed of experts from various fields of marine science, geology, and experts from the political and legal perspectives of creating an improved MSR Framework for the Philippines. This dialogue emphasized the importance of further understanding the country’s marine environment and a step towards sustainable development of marine resources. This third Dialogue was convened on Monday, 14 November 2022 at the Roma Salon, Manila Hotel and via Zoom.


Mr. Julio Amador III, Executive Director of the Fulbright Philippines’ Philippine-American Educational Foundation, gave the opening remarks, where he highlighted the need for a concrete MSR policy framework and safeguarding Filipino MSR scientists faced with geopolitical challenges such as the Chinese incursions happening since 1995.


Keynote speaker, H.E. MaryKay Loss Carlson, United States (US) Ambassador to the Philippines, said that the US and the Philippines will continue their commitments in enhancing research and conserving the marine ecosystem for future generations. Plenary speaker Dr. Rhodora V. Azanza discussed the importance of the Blue Economy, the goal of sustainability through innovations, and cross border regional cooperation is needed through an ASEAN Blue Economy framework.


The hybrid dialogue was divided into three panels. The first panel discussed the Philippines’ main challenges. The speakers were Dr. Hazel Arceo of the Department of Biology and Environmental Science of the University of the Philippines Cebu, Dr. Esteven Toledo of the Wildlife Resources Division of DENR Biodiversity Management Bureau, Dr. Rene Abesamis of the Angelo King Center for Research and Environmental Management of Siliman University, and Mr. Dennis Arsenio Bringas of the Physical Oceanography Division, Hydrography Branch of the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA).



Panel 1 - Main Challenges for the Philippines


Dr. Hazel Arceo focused on three general characteristics of marine living resources which are most relevant for MSR in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and how these characteristics greatly influence the vulnerability of marine biodiversity and fisheries including the challenges in research and management. The first characteristic is that marine living resources know no boundaries. The second characteristic is that ecological filters drive community patterns with multi-level threats of declining spawning stock, changing environmental conditions, and inter-specific interactions such as outbreaks, competition, and more. Lastly, marine living resources provide important ecosystem goods and services. The priority research should include connectivity in order to understand spatial relationships with, within, and with neighboring areas which can serve for management and conservation in determining areas for protection, continuing ecological studies to look at patterns and factors that affect it, and lastly, studying ecosystem goods and services that WPS is providing.


Dr. Rene Abesamis identified priorities relevant to Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the context of an MSR Framework for WPS. He discussed the definition of MPAs and how it allows ecosystem recovery from extractive activities and through MPA Networks, 15-40% of protected areas promote faster recovery. Dr. Abesamis says that it is important to protect the WPS due to its biophysical perspectives and that the main priorities in MSR in the WPS should include identifying potential MPAN units based on biophysical considerations and feasible governance arrangements, systematic ecological surveys and valuation studies, expansion of ecological studies beyond the usual shallow habitats where MPAs are predominantly established, and long-term monitoring of ecosystem recovery within and outside MPAs


Mr. Dennis Arsenio Bringas touched on monitoring Sea Level Trends by NAMRIA. With 60 tide stations, they conduct tidal current and wave observations through various points in the country. Mr. Bringas explained that their tidal data is more often used by researchers, commercially, and by the government. With this, they plan to continually expand their oceanographic data and information to other marine and ocean environmental sectors especially since real-time sea level data’s importance to relevant government agencies in approaching disaster mitigation and timely issuance of warning systems to coastal communities.


Dr. Esteven Toledo discussed current trends in Wildlife Law Enforcement. Illegal Wildlife Trade or Wildlife trafficking is the 4th most illicit business in the world which is estimated to be worth US$7-21 billion per year. He says that the main reasons for wildlife trafficking are for local pet trade, breeding, for traditional medicine and as food, and due to high demand. These can result in species extinction, biodiversity destruction or loss, risks to global human health, and national security. Dr. Toledo mentioned that the majority of wildlife trafficking is done via sea and an increase of selling on the internet. To combat the wildlife trafficking in the Philippines, the creation of Philippine Operations Group on Ivory and Illegal Wildlife Trade (POGI) in June 2013 was established with members from PNP, Bureau of Customs, NICA, and DENR. Other groups formed are Wildlife Enforcement Officers (WEOs), Wildlife Monitoring Units (WTMUs) which monitor strategic air and sea ports. New initiatives are Wildlife Agence and Citizen Law Enforcement Reporting Tool or WildALERT, a mobile application that aids DENR and law enforcement partners in identifying wildlife species and reporting crimes.



Panel 2 - International / Global Challenges


The second panel touched on marine pollution, illegal fishing, and deep sea research. The speakers were Dr. Andre Jon Uychiaoco Senior Fisheries Advisor of the Fish Right Program, Dr. Gil Jacinto of UP MSI, and Dr. Carla Dimalanta from the National Institute of Geological Studies. Dr. Rosalie Hall served as their moderator.


Dr. Gil Jacinto discussed Marine Pollution and MSRs in the WPS. He defined marine pollution as a harmful cause to the marine environment and ultimately to humans. He correlated how plastic pollution has greatly affected the KIG despite being a remote area, with huge amounts of plastic pollution coming from not only the Philippines, but also from all over the world. To provide evidence on why MSR matters, Dr. Jacinto mentioned that the Philippine Government joined the resolution of ending plastic pollution including its commitments with ASEAN on combating marine debris, COBSEA Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter, and Philippines National Plan of Action for the Reduction of Marine Litter are some of the frameworks which can support in getting research funds.


Dr. Andre Jon Uychiaoco tackled Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUU). The Fish Right Program promotes sustainable fishing to reduce threats to marine biodiversity and increased biomass. Both illegal commercial and municipal fishing in the Philippines amounts to 27-40% with an estimated value of PHP 42-63 billion. 90% are fishing without permit in municipal waters. Current tools used to see the progress of IUU reduction is through the IUU Fishing Index and Threat Assessment Tool (I-FIT Tool). As foreign illegal fishing can be detected through radars, exploitation can be seen happening in the WPS hence more systematic research is needed to check the status and trends of the fisheries stocks and to be able to manage the shared fish stocks as part of the SCS.


Dr. Carla Dimalanta talked about deep sea research in the Philippines. She mentioned that one of the benefits of marine scientific research is that it can determine large magnitude earthquakes in the Manila trench, subduction zones, and the effect of onland and offshore faults on landslides, earthquakes, and tsunamis as these natural disasters know no boundaries. In the WPS, offshore gas resources are also highly present which can either be beneficial or dangerous to the country. Therefore, Dr. Dimalanta suggests the preparation for deep sea research by investing in a pool of scientists, vessels, and scientific equipment and resources by the national government. For Dr. Dimalanta, being fully aware of our seas and EEZ is essential in exercising our sovereignty, and secures our citizens against hazards and provides natural resources that are connected in deep sea knowledge. Hence, the Philippines must ensure a safe and secure conduct of MSRs.



Panel 3 - Political and Legal Perspectives


The third panel focused on the geopolitical factors, political, and legal perspectives of creating an improved MSR Framework. National Security Adviser Dr. Clarita Carlos served as plenary speaker. Director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, Atty. Jacqueline Espenilla opened the legal basis of the framework, and Former Representative of the 2nd District of Palawan provided the political movements on the said framework. Dr. Deo Florence Onda provided comments and served as the moderator.


Dr. Clarita Carlos discussed the search for an MSR Framework. She stated laws that correlate to MSR such as the Legal Framework and UNCLOS, Art. 239 and that expressed consent of the Philippines is needed should any MSR be conducted. She encouraged MSR to be seen as a part of a regional integration effort because of its peaceful means of human communities at a very high level of organization. It deals with common interests, responsibility and tasks, benefits, transactions, perceptions, and learnings. However it does not deal with sovereignty, territory, balance of power, and military capability. Therefore, an MSR Framework must find a way to focus on science and not politics.


Atty. Jacqueline Espenilla highlighted the urgency to create an MSR Framework to better understand the ocean. From a legal perspective, the MSR Framework must cover international and domestic law. As such, any multilateral cooperation must take into consideration the UNCLOS and international law. Creating a regional approach is plausible with the Philippine victory in the arbitration case against China. All activities must therefore follow its legal framework. The characteristics of MSR itself such as the geographical location on where the research shall take place, sustainable methods and means of research, and the effects of activities to the marine environment must also be considered. Atty. Espenilla also mentioned the repercussions that may occur on allowing MSR in the WPS such as the possibility of using the research for military gains. Hence, it is important to be careful in conducting research and who we allow to do so.


Atty. Cyrille “Beng” F. Abueg-Zaldivar tackled the current MSR Framework according to UNCLOS and the 1995 DFA Guidelines. She discussed the importance of getting the Philippine “Archipelagic House” in order as it affects various maritime laws such as the MPAs, government agencies that can help implement the framework, and steps to ensure its effectiveness. Once the Archipelagic House is completed, it will allow MSR in maritime areas without ambiguity or challenge. Furthermore, it prescribes rights and obligations of foreign ships/aircraft. Maritime Zones Act and Archipelagic Sea Lanes Act must be passed for this to happen. Current challenges faced in establishment of MSR Framework in WPS are lack of defined maritime territory, territorial and maritime disputes, security issues, and the government’s current foreign policy direction.


Amb. Marilyn Alarilla provided the summary and synthesis of the dialogue. Former VADM Jose Luis Alano closed the program by thanking the speakers, organizers, partners, and providing a recap of lessons learned from the three dialogues. He concluded with a quote from Gloria Fluxà Thienemann saying that the, “ocean and nature can live without us, but humanity cannot live without nature”.


The Dialogue Series was implemented with the support of the US Embassy in the Philippines.




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