Duterte brings up coral reef protection, illegal fishing during ASEAN-China dialogue

President Duterte raised the issues of coral reef protection and illegal fishing during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN) dialogue with China on Tuesday, Oct. 26.

President Rodrigo Duterte (Malacañang photo)

"We hark back to the Philippines' ASEAN Chairmanship in 2017 where we declared the Decade of Coastal and Marine Environmental Protection in the South China Sea from 2017 to 2027," Duterte said during his intervention in the 24th ASEAN-China Summit, which is part of the ongoing 38th and 39th ASEAN Summits and Related Summits.

"Pursuant to this, we call for holistic efforts to protect and preserve biodiversity and the marine environment," said Duterte, who is participating in the twin summits virtually.

"Vulnerable marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs and other living spaces of endangered and migratory wildlife species, should be prioritized," he noted.

"We must strengthen cooperation in addressing marine debris and transboundary pollution. And we must ramp up efforts to fight against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing," the Philippine leader further said, adding that "These are crucial to achieve food security and to mitigate global warming."

"We are all too aware of the horrendous consequences of a warming climate, especially for developing coastal countries like the Philippines," Duterte said.

China is among the longer-tenured dialogue partners of the ASEAN, of which the Philippines is a founding member. Premier Li Keqiang attended the ASEAN-China Summit on behalf of China.

Although the Duterte administration has managed to foster rosy bilateral ties with Beijing, contentious actions exist in connection with the longstanding maritime disputes between the Philippines and China.

Last March, over 200 Chinese fishing vessels were seen anchored at Whitsun Reef, a disputed territory in the South China Sea. This sparked tension between Manila and Beijing, which both have claims over the area.

The Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) probed in April the alleged illegal fishing of the foreign ships within the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

The WPS is part of the South China Sea, over which China has a blanket "historical claim".

Also last April, scientist group Advocates of Science and Technology for the People or AGHAM claimed that the Philippines was losing P1.3 trillion annually over the destruction of coral reefs by China’s alleged island-building and clam-poaching activities in the WPS.