EU and the Philippines: On the right tack to protect the oceans

NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Luc Véron - The Philippine Star

As far as I can remember, I have been in love with the sea. As a sailor who lived near the ocean in my native France, the sea has always been my comfortable respite. Working in an archipelagic country like the Philippines, where the sea is inescapable, is a wish fulfilled.

The oceans and water were the theme of the visual arts exhibition “Ebb and Flow, Return to Nature” which the Delegation organized recently to mark the EU Green Week and the UN Ocean Conference.

During our exhibition launch, I mentioned that while water is indomitable and man cannot conquer the ocean, we must do our outmost to create a regulated, safe and secure maritime environment for all nations.

These principles are central to the EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific where we seek to work with our partners in the region to respond to the dynamics affecting our collective security and to boost trade and investment, economic freedom and prosperity and a sustainable approach to connectivity.

The stability of the Indo-Pacific region is certainly important not just to the EU but to the world. After all, 60 percent of maritime trade passes through its oceans, including a third through the South China Sea whose passages need to remain free and open. The EU supports a rules-based maritime order in accordance with international law, in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The EU believes that all parties should avoid unilateral actions that can endanger peace, security and stability in the region and the international rules-based order. We cannot therefore allow countries to unilaterally undermine international law and maritime security in the South China Sea.

At the heart of the EU’s maritime security cooperation with the Philippines is a program called CRIMARIO (Critical Maritime Routes in the Indo-Pacific). This program was conceptualized to enhance maritime domain awareness through information sharing, capacity building and training, international cooperation and dialogue.

Currently, the EU is supporting the Philippine Navy, Coast Guard, MARINA and National Coast Watch Council Center to contribute to the country’s maritime security.

CRIMARIO held a series of trainings for local experts and officials on how to use the Indo-Pacific regional information-sharing platform (IORIS) to develop maritime domain awareness and improve operational effectiveness of the interagency collaboration at national and/or regional level.

I am proud that the Philippines is the first ASEAN country to benefit from this initiative.

Ocean governance is another key element of the EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy. The EU is stepping up efforts in ensuring ocean governance in full compliance with international law and with the main goal towards ensuring the sustainable management of the ocean’s resources and safeguarding biodiversity.

The EU will also continue supporting Indo-Pacific partners in achieving reforms of fisheries management and control systems.

In the Philippines, the EU has a formal dialogue to partner in improving fisheries management and control systems. The end goal is to ensure that the Philippines can effectively manage their own fishing stocks and the fish exported to the EU does not come from illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

As important as maritime protection is ensuring the conservation of the bountiful ocean resources and promoting a sustainable blue economy.

The EU has been working with its partners across the Philippines to boost coastal fisheries, to develop marine protected areas in Bohol and Siquijor and to assist mangrove restoration in South Palawan. We recently started a project to promote tuna preservation in the Mindoro Strait. In Tawi-Tawi, we have boosted renewable energy infrastructure for seaweed-producing municipalities. This will promote the seaweed value chain, which also has a huge potential for Mindanao and the Visayas.

On a larger scale, the EU is part of the restoration of marine and coastal ecosystems in three marine protected areas in Southeast Asia, specifically in the Sulu Sulawesi Seascape within the Coral Triangle. Also the EU has been a strong supporter, since its inception, of the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, the intergovernmental organization hosted by the Philippines. We have worked with the Center for many years to strengthen conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in the region.

One major priority for our cooperation with the Philippines in the next years will be to support a green and inclusive economic recovery. The focus of this partnership will be to reduce plastic waste by working closely with municipalities and private sector. Less plastic waste will mean less marine litter and less pollution of the oceans.

The French poet Paul Verlaine aptly captures our dramatic human relation to the ocean, source both of life and death, with these verses:

Lasse de vivre, ayant peur de mourir, pareille

Au brick perdu jouet du flux et du reflux

Mon âme pour d’affreux naufrages appareille

Tired of life, afraid of death, not unlike

A lost brig, toy of ebb and flow on the ocean,

My soul weighs anchor for a frightful shipwreck

I hear these verses are an invitation to avoid the wreck. We are the only stewards of our seas. Let us all do our best to protect them.

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Luc Véron is Ambassador of the European Union to the Philippines.

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