Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario called on the government and its neighbors in Southeast Asia to agree on declaring the Spratlys a marine protected area to protect and rebuild the remaining marine life in the South China Sea.

DEL ROSARIO 1 1024x576 - Spratlys pushed as marine protected area
Former Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario
(AP Photo / Bullit Marquez / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

In a statement, Del Rosario cited the importance of the South China Sea being part of an area that has long been known to be the greatest concentration of marine life on the planet, where the highest concentration of biodiversity is in the Philippines.

He noted that the Spratlys are the breeding grounds of fish and other marine life that give food and sustenance to the people of Southeast Asia over centuries, adding that traditional fishermen and their families have lived throughout these years relying on their fish catch from these waters.

Citing the 2016 Arbitral Award of the United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Del Rosario said the rich biodiverse region was “mercilessly destroyed” by China through its illegal reclamation and artificial-island building in the Spratlys.

The former DFA Secretary, who was among the architects of the successful arbitration case against Beijing, noted that since 2013, Chinese dredgers pulverized the coral reefs in the Spratlys and used these dead coral reefs and other sediments to create dry land.

Given the destruction of these fish sanctuaries in the Spratlys, he said scientists are now warning that this has accelerated one of the world’s worst fisheries collapse that may lead to mass starvation in the region.

Further, Del Rosario said it now seems obvious for the need to protect and rebuild the remaining marine life in the South China Sea, citing the suggestion of retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio and other marine biologists to immediately declare the Spratlys as a marine protected area.

“If countries bordering the South China Sea agree to declare the Spratlys a marine protected area, this will give the marine life in that area some breathing space to heal. We therefore urge our countrymen, the Philippine government and our ASEAN neighbors to help us in this endeavor,” the former envoy said.

Del Rosario referred to the study made by John McManus, a world-renowned marine scientist, who ominously warned of “worst fisheries collapses ever” putting at risk hundreds and hundreds of species in the South China Sea.

Equally important, he said, is to demand accountability from Beijing, “the main perpetrator of the environmental destruction in the South China Sea.”

“If we do not demand accountability, we embolden rogue countries like China to commit the same malevolent acts in the future, including China’s planned reclamation of Scarborough Shoal – another rich traditional fishing ground of Filipinos, the Vietnamese, and even the Chinese. It is imperative that we exert all efforts to prevent China from committing another disastrous crime by reclaiming Scarborough Shoal,” Del Rosario said.

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