Government must delineate RP exclusive zone in Spratlys

(The Philippine Star) - February 4, 2008 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Senators reminded the administration yesterday on the need to delineate the country’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as the government protested the recent visit of Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian on Ligao Island (Taiping) in the Kalayaan Island Group in the South China Sea.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Sen. Edgardo Angara called on President Arroyo as well as foreign and environment officials to update lawmakers on how the government is complying with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) deadline.

Pimentel, speaking over dzBB radio, said there is a need for foreign affairs officials to clarify the country’s position over the Spratlys and the Taiwan president’s recent visit there to avoid “causes of tension” in the disputed Spratly and Kalayaan Islands.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Romulo said the visit was “irresponsible political posturing” because it could spark tension in the region.

In supporting the Department of Foreign Affair’s (DFA) protest, Pimentel said he has included the issue of the disputed islands in his proposal for the government’s shift from presidential to federal system.

This developed as Pimentel reminded of this year’s deadline on all UN member countries to specify a 200-mile EEZ.

“It (the protest) reminds us all the more that this year is the deadline year to specify the 200-mile exclusive economic zone. Otherwise, we cannot protect our coastal zones, and all the marine resources under our seas,” Pimentel said.

He said the country faces greater problem if the 200-mile EEZ is not met, a position that has long been advocated by Angara.

Angara said the UN had advised all member countries to map out their 200-mile EEZ by 2008 or they would lose the exclusivity in the exploitation of marine resources.

He has reiterated since last year that government should comply with the requirement, reminding concerned agencies of the need to map out the country’s EEZ.

Angara identified the DFA and the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA), an agency under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, as the ones responsible in delineating the 200-mile EEZ.

“If we fail to meet the deadline, anybody can harvest tuna and other marine products within the 200-mile zone,” Angara warned.

He pointed out that even before the delineation of the EEZ, hundreds of fishing boats, mainly from China and Taiwan, had already been caught poaching on Philippine waters.

“These foreign fishermen could soon fish in our waters legally unless we do our job and determine the meters and bounds of our territory,” Angara said.

He said the $450-million tuna industry, mainly based in General Santos City and the Sarangani Bay, will suffer from the intrusion of foreign fishermen into what is supposed to be exclusive waters of the Philippines.

“Tuna is one of the bright spots in Philippine economy, and it would be a shame if it loses its economic luster because of bureaucratic inefficiency,” the administration senator said.

Angara, a former agriculture secretary, said the operations of seven tuna canning factories in General Santos would slow down if the Philippines fails to delineate its 200-mile EEZ before deadline.

The seven factories have an average capacity of 750 metric tons a day. He said as many as 160,000 fishermen and related workers are involved in the tuna industry, most of whom would lose their jobs unless the UNCLOS deadline is met.

Angara said he felt he has a personal stake in the issue because it was during his tenure as agriculture secretary that the General Santos City fishport was modernized and expanded.

“The expansion and modernization of the fishport drew investors who poured millions of dollars into the facility and employed thousands of workers. That was one of my main contributions to the city and to the industry, and I do not want it to go to waste,” he said.

Meanwhile, Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. of the Department of National Defense (DND) yesterday frowned on the visit of Chen Shuibian to Ligao Island (Taiping). 

Teodoro, who was the guest in yesterday’s 63rd anniversary of the Battle for Manila, said, “There is a code of conduct that everybody must comply with the DFA. We look at disfavor on the visit of the Taiwanese President to the Spratlys.”

When asked if the DND would take any action, Teodoro said they would leave it up to the DFA. “This is a DFA matter and we will comply with the code of conduct. We will wait for the DFA to tell us what to do.” – Evelyn Macairan

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