Asean’s marine resources as game changer



A SHORT news item from St. Julian’s, Malta last weekend has not made the front pages of Philippine newspapers or audio-visual media but to me, it means a lot and needs to be interpreted deeper for the Asean peoples.

The Philippines entered into a partnership with the non-profit, non-stock international organization advocating environmental rehabilitation, conservation and rehabilitation for ecological sustainability, called Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

The cooperative agreement is formally between the EDF and the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources which will set an example among the 10 Asean members to create domestic rules and laws to insure their food and water security, push economic development and simultaneously recover the dwindling species of marine lives in the region.

The partnership, announced in the EDF conference, obviously supported by the United Nations, signals that the Philippines is now committed to formulate public policies and laws that will mandate the use of scientific processes, test new production technologies and train manpower to use these.

The wire service report quoted EDF vice president for Asia John Mimikakis as extolling the partnership, that the “EDF is proud to be partnering with the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to set an example in the region to build policies that can improve food security and provide economic development, at the same time, recover fisheries.”

The Asean 10 is home for 630 million people (and still counting) of various historical and colonial backgrounds, cultures and languages, although English is common to them. The latest official figures show their collective gross domestic product is $2.4 trillion and they occupy 1.7 million square miles.

The world’s biggest archipelago, Indonesia, is one of the founders of Asean 50 years ago with Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines under the Bangkok Declaration. It is the site of the so-called Coral Triangle which sits on only three percent of the world’s geographical area, but whose biodiversity is almost 25 percent of the planet’s—and more species are getting discovered by the day.

The Philippines sits on the apex of the Coral Triangle with Indonesia as its base from Sumatra to the west and to Papua New Guinea to the east. It is the breeding ground of the world’s 21 species of tuna (yellowfin, skipjack, frigate tuna and eastern little tuna or kawakawa), small and big pelagic fish (galunggong, dilis, anchovies, rabbitfish, groupers, carp, crabs, shrimps, mollusks, oysters, etc.) which provide cheap protein to more than 70 percent of the island populations.

But the oceans and marine resources of the world today are the most degraded of the natural resources due to the economic competition among the industrialized nations. On one hand, there is the US and her allies who either control the technological advances of production and information and are using these to remain the planet’s top hegemon.

On the other hand, there are China, Russia and their client nations who believe that Communism or a dictatorship is the only answer to the US and the imperfections of democracy and free economies. And obviously, the Asean 10 as an emerging regional economic group predicted to be the fastest growing among the world’s is predicted to be the top-rated group in the next 20 years.

Thus, there is a dire need to address the issue of managing our natural resources in Asean now. In simple terms, this is the balance between people’s welfare and environmental sustainability so that ecological balance is attained while simultaneously attaining what economists call inclusive growth—and having sufficient nourishing food and safe water for human consumption.

We have five major ecosystems on this planet we must manage with an eye to the future because demographics and times are dynamic. These undergo evolution or changes; and our governments and private citizens and business enterprises must unite and cooperate to have the desired ecological balance.

The suggested imperative measures we must undertake collectively under the ongoing Asean integration are complex because the five ecosystems are the mountains and forests, the croplands, the human settlements and manufacturing areas, the swamplands or wetlands and the reefs and corals which are part of the marine resources.

I will deal with them in the succeeding columns to be fair.

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