The United States said Thursday the multi-billion “illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and destruction of the rich marine ecosystem in the West Philippine Sea is a cause of concern for both the United States and the Philippines.”
During the virtual Earth Day round table, US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires John Law stressed that the IUU activities in the country’s waters, including in the West Philippine Sea, was the biggest threat to the environment and livelihood of Filipino fishermen.
The embassy official said this was the reason why the US government through the United States Agency for International Development supports a variety of programs to strengthen Philippine environmental sustainability, climate resilience, sustainable management of natural resources, and combat environmental crimes.
“There is no greater existential threat to the environment and livelihood of fisherfolk than the destruction of the rich ecosystem in the West Philippine Sea. The US shares Philippine concerns over IUU fishing and environmental destruction perpetrated in the Philippine waters,” Law added.
A recent study made by the USAID and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources showed that illegal fishing in the Philippines accounted for as much as 40 percent in 2019, or approximately P62 billion or $1.3 billion yearly.
“IUU fishing remains a top priority for the United States. Through USAID, we are stepping up our partnership with the Philippines to promote sustainable fishing practices and enhance the well-being of Filipinos dependent on this critical resource,” Law said.
In August last year, the USAID launched the Philippines Sustainable Interventions for Biodiversity, Oceans, and Landscapes (SIBOL) project, a five-year P1.1 billion program that aims to “help the government achieve its goal of improving natural resource governance and stimulate public and private investments leading to a greater ecosystem stability and inclusive green growth.”
Besides supporting environmental initiatives, the US government is also partnering with the Philippines to strengthen the country’s maritime domain awareness and ability to secure its territory amid China’s continuous aggressive activities in the West Philippine Sea, including the recent swarming by Chinese militia vessels of the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
Julian Felipe Reef is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone or about 175 nautical miles off Bataraza town in Palawan.
Law pointed out this was the reason why the US believed that a strong Philippine alliance was vital to a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of the Philippines is augmenting its presence in the West Philippine Sea with the help of other government agencies capable of doing maritime patrols, its chief said on Thursday.
“We are currently augmenting in as far as our operations in the West Philippine Sea is concerned, our air and naval assets in support to the National Task Force (for) the West Philippine Sea, and (we are) working alongside with the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources,” Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said in a virtual press conference.
Sobejana said the AFP currently had 10 naval assets doing sovereignty patrols.
He added the military was documenting every violation China was committing against the country’s exclusive economic zone and forwarding it to the Department of Foreign Affairs in support of their diplomatic protests.
The NTF WPS earlier expressed concern over a Coast Guard report about 200 Chinese fishing vessels, believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, sighted in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef on March 7.
The reef is approximately 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan.