Friday, May 18, 2018

The Philippine Rise Conundrum

By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2018 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

In an act of bravado to signify Philippine interest to cordon off the Philippines’ latest maritime gem, President Rodrigo Duterte aboard BRP Davao del Sur signed on May 15 a presidential proclamation declaring portions of the Philippine Rise, formerly known as the Benham Rise, and Eastern Kalayaan in the Spratly Islands as protected areas. The 50,000 hectares resource-rich continental shelf which became a Strict Protection Zone exclusively for Philippine scientific studies was ruled out by the United Nations in 2012 as part of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) giving the Southeast Asian’s archipelagic nation-state the sovereign rights to explore and exploit resources in the area.

The Philippine Rise is an uncontested underwater plateau about 150 nautical miles to the east of the northern Philippine island of Luzon. It was renamed also in May last year from Benham Rise, fortified through the Executive Order No. 25, renaming the 13-million hectare area undersea landmass off Aurora and Cagayan provinces in an apparent bid to assert the country’s sovereignty amid alleged incursions by Chinese ships.

Two years ago, in a campaign showdown between and among presidential candidates in the Philippines, the firebrand leader caught the attention of Filipino voters when Duterte said, out of his witticism to augment his tactical approach, to ride a jet ski to the contested waters of the West Philippine Sea on China’s reclaimed land in the Spratlys and plant the Philippine flag there to stir his patriotism to the country at the height of the ongoing row in the West Philippine Sea between China and the Philippines. As of this time, that political promise has yet to be realized.

Last year, China sought permission from the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs to conduct its own hydrographic surveys in the uninhabited and structure-free Philippine Rise which saw its presence in several periods. The massive rise has no scintilla of ownership dispute and is recognized by international law that gives an apparent geostrategic importance to China in its quest to establish itself as a regional hegemon. China’s newfound defense and economic confidence is near completion on its reenvisioned maritime power. Understandably, this undersea scientific playing ground matters to China’s quest for maritime expansion.  

Despite the warming relationship of China and the Philippines and frequent visits of strongmen Asian leaders in Beijing and Manila, how come that the Filipino president tries to assert his sovereignty rights over the Philippines Rise? Will China continuously pursue bilateral cooperation in the exploration and exploitation of the resource-rich rise?

In a conciliatory bid to soften Manila’s aggressive attack on Beijing, President Duterte’s  recalibrated diplomatic knack swiftly nurtured a welcoming friendly ties with Xi Jinping after the highly-talked about July 2016 Arbitral Tribunal invalidation of China’s nine-dash line claims, for which after several high-level summits, it will pave a way for an holistic Framework on the Code of Conduct in managing the contested islands to avert the costly consequences of any potential outbreak of armed confrontations in the disputed sea region.

Underlining President Duterte’s action man persona proves that he is trying to assert sovereignty to Philippine territories bounded by the spirit of the Philippine Constitution that explicitly adheres to the protection and security of the country’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity. In his thrust to accelerate federalism, he had ordered the composition of the Consultative Commission that intends to harmonize the country’s 1987 constitution with existing international laws of the sea.

In the proposed Article 1 of the draft charter on Sovereignty Over Territory and Sovereign Rights, Section 1 states that, “the Philippines has sovereignty over its territory, consisting of the islands and waters encompassed by its archipelagic baselines, its territorial sea, and its airspace. It has sovereignty over islands and features outside its archipelagic baselines pursuant to the laws of the Federal Republic, the law of nations, and the judgments of competent international courts or tribunals. It likewise has sovereignty over all the other territories belonging to the Philippines by historic right or legal title. While Section 2 stipulates that, “the Philippines has sovereign rights over that maritime expanse beyond its territorial sea to the extent reserved to it by international law, as well as over its extended continental shelf including the Philippine (Benham) Rise. Its citizens shall enjoy the right to all resources to which they are entitled by historic rights.”

However historic right and legal title on the Philippine Rise can become a potent factor to circumvent the ambiguity and volatility of regional security environment that may make or break any strategic undertaking. To subscribe to the historical claims would be a haphazard calculation of China’s saber rattling military manuevering to legitimize its claims in the disputed islands in the region. It is a double-edged sword tactic resulting to pessimistic multiplier effects on how to deal with the Philippine Rise conundrum.

On the query on bilateral cooperation between the Philippines and China, it appears relatively affirmative and promising. In terms of joint scientific research, Philippine law would allow foreign research in its territory as long Filipino scientists are aboard the research vessel and the findings of the study are shared internationally. Hence, Article 246 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) permits in normal circumstances the granting of consent for marine scientific research projects by other countries.

Nonetheless, the world’s second largest archipelago remained weak in defending its stolen territory and maritime entitlements despite an increase to 13 million hectares on Philippine archipelagic territory based on endowment of the Unclos to the Philippine Rise. Hence, Philippine defense laws and security executive issuances should essentially identify fundamental interests, primarily for the fortification of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. In the end, the Philippines is still locked in a period when hegemony of naval powers reign at seas to regain its real independence.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Anilao, Batangas (Scuba Diving)

     Photographs by CBCabalza. Copyright © 2018 by Chester B. Cabalza. All Rights Reserved.

In the deep end of the ocean
when natural born divers
swim gracefully, among the
school of fish, the barracudas,
and other creatures in a
vast body of a deep blue sea;
only goggles as their apparatus
to explore the finest haven
or empire that few can only see

They hold their breath,
crawling like an eel, to catch
a glimpse of an underwater sanctuary
peculiar colors of fish flash
to the sight, jellies as lanterns,
corals as grotto of tiny school,
seahorses robe the majestic kingdom

Beneath the endless basin,
a fortune of ornaments and splendor
amaze divers,
and like fish, they are bestowed with
gills to breath underwater,
the mermen and guardians
of creatures of the abyss

So when divers exhale
no way the whale splash their breath,
is like an astonishing relieve
to glance once more
the dome of the earth,
heedless, the clear skies
ready to clasp them in
their resurrection,
and all the while they inhale

then the underwater
guzzle them again
to see more of the power

down, down, down…

(Poetry by CBCabalza)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Boracay Island’s Tragedy of the Commons

By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2018 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

A month after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the total closure of Boracay Islands to recover from climate change and the influx of tourism, about millions of local and foreign tourists have been deprived from its celebrated white-sand beaches since its declaration as a cesspool.  The archipelagic country’s recent environmental disaster sums up the tragedy of the commons on its sustainable development meshing economic growth and environmental protection. Based from the Department of Tourism report, around 152,391 individual in Western Visayas of the Philippines could be affected by the closure giving the local economy a decrease by only five percent.

More than 1,000 structures are being partially or completely demolished to give way for the road widening. Although an initial master plan seeks for upgrades to address issues including the island’s infrastructure, transportation, environmental law violations, sewerage and waste management problems that will allot 70 percent for open space and only 30 percent for establishments under its rehabilitation program. 

President Duterte’s adamant upper hand on the island’s closure could save Boracay’s carrying capacity as a tourist destination to restore its wonder in addressing damages to the nature, degradation of tourist experience, alienation of local residents, and threats to culture and heritage which affected the ecological footprint of tourists.

The Philippines has a coastline of 37,008 kilometers, longer than the coastlines of China and the United States. The total coastal population of the country is estimated at 55.3 million or almost half of the country’s total population. Despite these omnipresent connections, environmental issues are still not high on the national security agenda in the country. The nexus of environmental security is seen neither as a security issue nor an environmental issue. However, it can be construed that environmental issues are often security concerns that have the potential to displace populations and lead to state collapse.

Boracay Islands is a best template for ecotourism that should embrace certain principles in the conservation of natural ecosystems, biodiversity and culture; community participation in the growth of the local tourism industry; inclusive growth that involves, women,  children, indigenous peoples, informal sector; increased  awareness  on environmental conservation and responsible travel; and balanced development by taking into consideration  economic, environmental and social goals.

In rehabilitating Boracay islands, there should be a good development plan to preserve the overall quality of the environment and tourist resources that will allow it to be used in the future. The planning and management of tourist development must not trigger serious ecological or socio-cultural problems. The attraction of open area should be maintained to continue the level of tourist satisfaction that will sustain commercial potential of the area and ultimately benefiting all the members of the community. It is therefore imperative that with increasing activities on various tourist destinations, it certainly requires the cooperation of all stakeholders in the community.

Moreover, sustainable tourism development must be supervised by Boracay island’s local authorities, and jointly managed and developed by non-government organizations (NGOs), local business groups and the residents because tourists or the consumers are the ones that are brought to the product made not only of individual local goods and services but the entire complex range of elements. Local authorities are in the best capacity to establish a sustainable approach to tourism in destinations, setting a strategic plan and balancing the interests of tourism enterprises, tourists and local residents. They are in the position to enforce tourism development, including spatial planning, development control, environmental management and community services.

Filipinos must understand that Boracay’s closure calls for a national support system on which all other commercial enterprises depend to save the country’s premiere tourist destination from greater havoc and for the bright future of the next generation. If political, social, cultural, and most importantly economic systems are to remain secure and viable, Boracay islands must also remain secure and viable. This will make the Philippines’ tourism gem a legitimate national security concern.

The social impacts of the environment security on Philippine tourism need niches for the effective use and conservation of the environment as a component of a wider sustainable development strategy in consonance with the principles of ecotourism and sustainable tourism development. It needs political will to champion environmental protection of beaches and islands against abusive economic gains that forgets the future of tomorrow.

The closure of Boracay island heralds the implementation of environmental laws in the country to protect Mother Nature premised on a foundation of ethics and respect for life.  Its closure sets example and offers a lessons learned practice that the there is a need to educate tourists, tourists stakeholders and communities of responsible tourism. It must create opportunities for raising awareness and support for the conservation of the environment and provide the forum to forge local and international network of individuals, institutions, the tourism industry and environmental line agencies. Notable efforts in prominent marine tourist destinations would call for proper resource utilization, protection and rehabilitation, as well as detection, apprehension, confiscation, prosecution and adjudication of environment-related violations. Lastly, the intersection of environmental justice and security considerations must lead to the formulation of policies that will influence the sunrise tourism industry, government institutions, civil society, and private sector to institutionalize the principles of environmental security governance.