Manalo tells ASEAN: Review UNCLOS' efficacy vs. challenges

It is just about time for the world to review the implementation and the provision of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as new challenges and threats to maritime security have arisen four decades since its passing, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Enrique Manalo said.

Speaking at maritime forums in Manila before delegates of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Manalo made the call as he believed that "geopolitical rivalries are simmering, transnational crime has intensified, and the effects of climate change are present and irreversible."

He urged the neighboring countries to review the law, which must govern the marine scientific research, navigational rights through straits, exploitation of seabed resources and marine environmental protection.

"It is timely for us, four decades on, to look back and take stock of this landmark document and examine whether it has served its intended purpose in this vast array of areas," Manalo said in his remark on Tuesday night.

"It is often said that the UNCLOS is a 'constitution of the oceans.' The heft of this description should not be lost on us, 40 years onward," he added.

With UNCLOS being cited in Philippine victory in its claims over the West Philippine Sea, Manalo called on the ASEAN neighbors to "uniformly subscribe to the UNCLOS as an instrument of international law."

It should not be done to become "merely a reflection of universally recognized principles," he said, noting that "to do the latter is a disservice to the crafters of this landmark document."

Manalo reminded them that reference to the UNCLOS "is now a staple in statements and outcome documents" in the ASEAN. "However, with repeated reference to the same words year in and year out comes the danger of becoming stale at best," he added.

"Now more than ever, ASEAN must be more intentional with its words," he said.

So, maritime events—such as the 10th ASEAN Maritime Forum and 12th Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum to Commemorate the 40th Anniversary of UNCLOS which the Philippines is currently hosting—are relevant, according to Manalo.

"Any time we gather around the table is an opportunity to reduce mistrust, to find common ground, and to work together to find solutions. Here and now, we have another such opportunity before us," he added.