With a scenario based on the end of internal security threat from insurgency, a national security policy that centralizes the position of maritime security should occupy the agenda of the next Philippine president.
Opportunities are great, in part because of heightened public consciousness generated by Benigno Aquino III’s responses to China’s incursions in the Philippine-claimed Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal), since 2010. Whether by diplomacy, naval force modernization, revivalism of the US-Philippines military alliance though the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or through arbitration, these policy responses have set the stage for driving maritime sovereignty and maritime concerns at the centre of Philippine foreign policy.
China’s blockade of Bajo de Masinloc from Filipino fishers and its recent island-building and reef reclamation in the South China Sea have imposed an overriding regional security threat to ASEAN and the US, and principally to the Philippines and Vietnam who have both responded with naval force modernization. While geopolitics and assertion of sovereign rights are two of the dominant angles that are played up in the analysis of the West Philippine Sea(WPS) issue, they do not not spell out the entirety of Philippine maritime security interest.
To illustrate the impact of the dispute on the ground: China has effectively banned small fishers from Bajo De Masinloc, which is “one of the oldest known fishing grounds” in the province of Zambales. Lingering dispute has threatened the community’s food and livelihoods security, primarily of the fisherfolk who are in fact vested by the 1998 Philippine Fisheries Codewith preferential access rights. At the local level, the dispute has necessitated the intervention of local actors such as the Municipal Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Management Committee (MFARMC), a multi-stakeholder body whose recommendations are designed to advance the municipal fishers’ rights to coastal resources in municipal waters. As it is, the MFARMC’s main agenda in Bajo de Masinloc has involved the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in the former’s request for the installation of the payao, or fisheries aggregating devises in waters where fishing is unthreatened by Chinese maritime law enforcers.
Moreover, the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative has earlier reported that tremendous ecological damage of China’s dredging on the vast and biodiverse reefs in the South China Sea / WPS has reached the expanse of 311 hectares, not to mention BBC’s report of the evident measures by Chinese civilians to destroy reefs for sale.
So, what does this mean for Philippine national security policy in the next five years? Firstly, the dispute affects a complex of security issues as it infringes on the human, national and environmental securities including ASEAN security.
In his Jaime V Ongpin Lecture in Ateneo de Manila last October 2012, University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law and director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, Prof Jay Batongbacal has argued the importance of the “natural, regional and global contexts” of the WPS issue. He focused on how sustainable resource management of mineral and fishery resources, the development of a maritime economy, and the promotion of good order at sea, literally form an “tangled web of boundaries” with other imperatives such as maritime defense and the assertion of sovereign rights over the Exclusive Economic Zone.
Decision makers should not compartmentalize the multi layer of imperatives of the West Philippine Sea issue, but instead incorporate an inter-mestic lens that is essential in drawing out the country’s maritime interest. A larger challenge, conveners and authors of the White Paper of the Informal Expert Group on the WPS published in August 2012 stood not only for the maritime defense of claimed territories but for the archipelagic defense of good order at sea, particularly against non traditional security threats of illegal fishing and other forms of environmental transgressions, transnational criminal activities such as piracy, human/ drug trafficking, smuggling, etc.
Prof Batongbacal said that recognition of the multiple drivers/ imperatives to the WPS issue will widen our repertoire of policy responses, while increasing the chances of regional cooperation and joint action.
Alma Maria O Salvador, PhD, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Daisy See, Director of the Chinese Studies Program are both faculty members of Ateneo de Manila. They are currently working on naval modernization research supported by the School of Social Sciences.