Rights-based science diplomacy urged to tackle issues on WPS

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In celebration of World Environment Day, the University of the Philippines Los Baños School of Environmental Science and Management (UPLB-SESAM) successfully hosted the “International Symposium on Science, Law, and Oceans: Advancing the Heritage Value of the West Philippine Sea through Rights-Based Science Diplomacy,” last June 05, 2024. The event was in collaboration with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), University of Rhode Island (URI), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Fish Right Program with the Philippines Network of Educators on Environment (PNEE), and the Philippine Environmental Science Association (PESA).

In his opening speech, Dr. Rico C. Ancog, Dean of SESAM, underscored the relation of science and society in shaping one another. “We are interested to learn how we can strengthen the role of science in assisting the society and for these to contribute effectively to the local as well as international policymaking, and of equal importance, how can society engage with and shape science,” Dr. Ancog said.

Dr. Rhodora V. Azanza, Professor Emeritus, The Marine Science Institute, University of the Philippines-Diliman and Academician, National Academy of Science and Technology-Philippines, delivered a presentation on “Challenges and Opportunities for an Open Science and Conservation Program in the West Philippine Sea.” 

Dr. Azanza highlighted the importance of mutual trust and respect in fostering opportunities for open science initiatives and research agreements. “Open access publication will make science more reproducible and afford rigorous review that could have more impact and allow more complex issues tackled,” she said. Dr. Azanza also highlighted the significance of “Diplomacy for Science and Science Diplomacy” by transforming the West Philippine Sea from a National Heritage to a Global Treasure. 

Meanwhile, Atty. Francisco Noel R. Fernandez III, Director General, Foreign Service Institute, delved into the “Legal and Foreign Policy Framework for Science Diplomacy in the West Philippine Sea.” He stressed the need for a transformative and collaborative approach to integrating science-based research into domestic and foreign policy. 

“The complex issues impacting our seas demand close partnership between science, diplomacy, and law, especially in addressing threats such as degradation of the Marine Environment due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, marine debris, and plastic pollution, among others,” Atty. Fernandez said. He added, “From a land-centric lens in governance, we need to transition into an ocean-centric view to advance national development including the promotion of cooperation in the ocean in order to influence a stable and peaceful environment in the West Philippine Sea.”

In the final talk entitled “Advancing Rights-Based Science Diplomacy in the West Philippine Sea,” by Dr. Ben S. Malayang III, Emeritus Professor, Institute of Environmental and Marine Sciences, Silliman University, shed light on the shrouded narrative of the “Commons” and emphasized the necessity for “Cooperation” in addressing the region’s challenges. A Senior Research Fellow of the BFAR-USAID-URI Fish Right Program and Adjunct Professor of UPLB-SESAM, Dr. Malayang noted the importance of collaboration to sustain the ecosystem services in the West Philippine Sea, despite the complex “friend-foe” dynamics. 

“We can also engage in collaborative protection of common ecological heritage in the West Philippine Sea… so that instead of a bipolar relationship of either foe or friend, we can have something that can be of common interest to us so that we can create some kind of stability in our regional relationships amidst continuing divergence of interest over jurisdictions and territories,” Dr. Malayang stressed. 

The reactors, Dr. Ma. Carmen Ablan-Lagman and Dr. Antonio P. Contreras, Professors, De La Salle University and SESAM-UPLB, respectively, offered valuable insights in response to the speakers’ presentations. 

“What we need is information integrated and made relevant to a particular issue that is at hand in terms of the development of the blue economy,” Dr. Lagman said.  She mentioned that in today’s age of information, available resources, continuing support from the government, and partnerships, science can be used to advance and tackle national security issues related to environmental protection.

On the other hand, Dr. Contreras focused on the concept of rights-based science diplomacy, saying that the scope of science must extend beyond merely quantifying available resources. He advocated for a more assertive approach by analyzing the power dynamics and identifying key stakeholders in formulating strategies and effective solutions. “Science is not just about measuring the resources that were there. We should also understand the power relations, being able to reveal it, we study it, and say who has access, who has the platform, who has a voice, so that in the end, we ventilate the issue to a point that we come up with strategies that, you know, might be workable,” he said.

The international symposium concluded with a closing message from Dr. Ancog, expressing his sincere appreciation to the esteemed speakers, partners, faculty, staff, and all the attendees for their contributions and active participation throughout the event. Organized by the Continuing Education and Training Division (CETD) of SESAM, the symposium had more than 200 participants who attended via Zoom and Facebook Live. (JGAquino)

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