Youth ambassadors hold forum on West PH Sea
YOUTH and student members of Cebu Youth Ambassadors joined other student leaders, graduate students, and community youth in a forum dubbed “Ato ni Bai!: Enhancing the Public Debate on the West Philippine Sea” last October 28.
The forum was aimed to raise student involvement and public awareness about the economic, political, environmental, and socio-cultural implications of the historic July 12 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in favor of Philippine territorial claims to the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
Invited resource speakers were youth leader Marikris de Guzman of International Youth Council Philippines and Dr. Ces Noble of Lingkod Bayani.
According to forum organizers, the West Philippine Sea issue is important to students because of numerous opportunities in possible joint scientific research, marine and geologic explorations, economic and business partnerships and jobs that would be created.
The forum tackled legal frameworks related to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), national defense, food and economic security, employment, and environmental impact of developing resources available in the area.
Other topics discussed were pressing issues that already impact thousands of Filipinos including 1,200 families of fishermen who were barred by Chinese Coast Guard from entering their traditional fishing area known locally as Panatag Shoal, which is also within the WPS territory.
The PCA decision is seen as an opportunity for the Philippines to find alternative political, economic, and diplomatic solutions to its row with China, now Asia’s most dominant economic and military power.
Among the highlights of the 501-page PCA decision ruled that:
— “there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights”
— ‘reclaimed islands’ constructed by China had no exclusive economic zone status
— reclamation activities by China should have stopped during the dispute process
— the entry of Chinese vessels into Philippine economic zones was unlawful and dangerous
— and that China had caused major environmental damage to the marine environment.
The Duterte administration remains open to bilateral talks with China to harness the wealth of West Philippine Sea while maintaining the Philippines’ sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Energy experts claim that the natural gas in the West Philippine Sea could provide clean fuel to the entire country for at least 20 years. A geologic survey done by United States Energy Information Administration revealed that the West Philippine Sea may contain at least 55.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 5.4 billion barrels of oil near the Spratly Islands and Reed bank, both highly contested territories.
In a related study stressing the environmental significance of the disputed territory, Professor John McManus of the University of Miami claimed that China’s incursions into the West Philippine Sea had affected at least 16,200 hectares of coral reef with the damage valued at an estimated US$6 billion per year.
Future exploration in the WPS could boost regional partnerships, thus paving the way for more cross-cultural, trade, and academic exchange while decreasing tension between the Philippines and China.
Aside from China, other claimants to the maritime territory included Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
The forum was co-organized by Cebu City Federation of Tertiary Supreme Student Governments and Councils, International Youth Council, Civika, Lingkod Bayani Network, and Philippine Junior Jaycees, Incorporated – Cebuano.
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