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Asean environment: Wetlands for disaster resilience

AMADO S. TOLENTINO, JR.May 26, 2017

THE 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami originating in an earthquake in the sea off Sumatra in Indonesia devastated 12 countries, including Indonesia, Thailand and Sri
Lanka. As an immediate response, the periodic Asian Wetlands Symposium held in 2005 (in India) recommended, among others, to “prioritize the natural coastal
defenses through greenbelt/coastal ‘bioshield’ development…… In connection therewith, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015) identified as
one of four priorities the matter of ‘investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience’.”

Not to be missed is the Asean Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (ADMER), which came into force in 2009 with the intention of
providing “effective regional mechanisms to mitigate impacts of natural disasters….through concerted national efforts and intensified regional cooperation.”

Early this year, the Asean Institute of International and Strategic Studies, a consortium of Asean think tanks, concluded that one of the key challenges to Asean is
“adapting to climate change:……Asean needs to be prepared for the real possibility that global mitigation efforts are not sufficient. Efforts to adapt to the effects of
climate change and disasters will increasingly demand greater coordination and the pooling of resources.”

In the light of scientific information that natural disasters are projected to intensify in Asia, the ADMER could be utilized for disaster prevention and mitigation
purposes even if the agreement leans heavily towards disaster preparedness and emergency response, i.e. faster movement of relief goods, better utilization of
civilian and military response, etc. ADMER could serve as the basis for Asean’s active role at disaster risk reduction by incorporating effective wetlands
management strategies for climate change resilience.

Disaster risk reduction, according to ADMER, means “a framework of elements considered with possibilities to minimize vulnerabilities and disaster risks to avoid,
through prevention or, to limit through mitigation and preparedness the adverse impacts of hazards within the broad context of sustainable development.”

Wetlands, on the other hand are among the world’s most valuable ecosystems, providing so may benefits to people. As defense fortifications, wetlands,
particularly mangroves, proved excellent defenses against the onslaught of typhoons and tsunamis as proven by the earthquake occurrence mentioned above.
Scientists explained that the roots of vegetation in Asian mangroves and other forest wetlands helped to hold the sediments in place against the impact of strong
winds, waves and currents. Additionally, wetlands are the “kidneys of the earth,” purifying water and waste from both natural and human sources. As “biological
supermarkets,” wetlands provide a wide variety of flora and fauna. Wetlands act as natural dams, absorbing heavy rainfalls, preventing flood downstream; helps
shoreline stabilization and erosion reduction. Wetlands help recharge groundwater aquifers too. Most important of all, wetlands provide livelihood to many people.
Aside from mangroves, wetlands include swamps, marshes, mudflats, floodplains, peatlands, estuaries, rivers, lakes and many more generally described as
“where water meets land.”

ADMER is replete with provisions which could be used by Asean countries in refuting the claim that while emergency response is almost well attended to from the
local to the national government level, much remains to be done in regard to a) cooperation in developing and putting into effect solutions to reduce disaster
impacts; b) development of strategies to identify, prevent or reduce disaster risks and losses; c) prevention and mitigation legislation, regulations, policies, plans,
programs and strategies; and d) raising public awareness about disaster prevention and mitigation.

In pursuit of this, Asean countries could very well incorporate wetlands for disaster risk reduction and build resilience in their legal agenda. For instance, the
strategy of planting mangrove saplings should be a continuing year-round activity in the long and extensive coastlines of countries comprising Asean. Likewise,
massive planting of high-quality and commercially productive variety of bamboo could be introduced in riverbanks/river basins and lakeshores as a technique not
only to withstand environmental disturbances but also to preserve and rehabilitate freshwater sources and lakes and provide added source of income to people.
Take note that Asean is not only about economic partnership, trade liberalization and economic integration. It is also about environmental security. In that regard,
Asean’s environment program, conceived in the early 1980s, has metamorphosed to include an Asean Working Group on Coastal and Marine Environment.

Hosting Asean@50 gives President Duterte a historic opportunity to influence the future direction of Asean vis-à-vis disaster risk reduction, an area where Asean
lags behind in terms of prevention and mitigation projects to better achieve climate change resiliency.

It should be borne in mind, however, that building a disaster-resilient Asean needs partnerships among governments, private sector, NGOs, LGUs, and other
institutions with clearly defined roles not only in disaster response but also in disaster prevention and mitigation. To begin with, a program on the values and
functions of wetlands for disaster risk reduction and onwards to consolidating resilience endeavors among Asean countries on the same track could be embarked
on and, in the process, highlight also the need to scale up adaptation to climate change. Indeed, Asean-wide advocacy initiatives about wetlands for disaster risk
reduction would do well to invigorate efforts in the region to give climate change resilience the priority that the issue deserves.

Hopefully, the recommendation is realized soon because Asean remains vulnerable to natural disasters. But through multi-stakeholder engagement, improvements
can be made at a much faster pace so the region can have a much needed disaster-resilient system.

The great Mekong River


AMADO S. TOLENTINO, JR.May 6, 2017

THE Mekong River is the twelfth longest river in the world at 4,173 kilometers. The headwaters originate in the Tibetan region of China and the river then flows
through Yunan province in China into five Asean countries: Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

The Mekong forms the boundary between Laos and Myanmar. It courses through Laos for approximately 500 km before once again becoming the boundary
between Laos and Thailand. Then the Mekong passes through the southwest corner of Laos and flows through the heart of Cambodia where a very unique
physical feature exists, the Tonle River and the Tonle Sap Lake. Then it flows into Vietnam and empties out through the Mekong Delta of Vietnam into the South
China Sea.

The Mekong River basin covers 795 km. (A water basin, also known as a catchment basin, is a geographical and hydrological unit consisting of a main river and all
the territories between the water source, the spring and the mouth of the river).
The tremendous natural resources of the Mekong Basin have long been recognized. The tropical climate of the region along with the abundance of water during
the wet season supports an extremely productive and diverse aquatic ecosystem with numerous ecologically important wetlands. In addition, the basin states rely
upon the natural productivity of the basin’s fisheries to help meet the subsistence needs of many of the approximately 60 million residents of the Mekong basin.

Common ground

While the interest of each country is different and there are diverse upstream and downstream issues, the Lower Mekong countries have found a common ground
on which to cooperate in addressing issues from a basin point of view. Cooperation in all fields of sustainable development, utilization, management conservation
of water and other resources is somehow evident in irrigation, hydro-power, navigation, flood control, fisheries, timber floating, recreation and tourism initiatives
and projects.

It was the United Nations which drew attention to the potential for integrated development in the lower Mekong basin as early as the 1950s. A Mekong Committee
was set up by Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and the then Republic of South Vietnam in 1957 “to promote, coordinate, supervise and control the planning and
investigations of water resource development projects.”
Political events, however, transpired to dampen the committee’s prospects and the change of government in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam during the mid-1970s
cast doubt on the committee’s future. By 1991, reactivation of the Mekong Committee began.
Circumstances, however, had changed considerably since the mid-1970s in many ways: a) although the region seemed to be entering a new era of peace in the
1990s, the governments were no longer as closely allied to each other as they were before the mid-1970s; b) the viability of large mainstream dams, the quest for
joint developments under the original Mekong Committee was under question due to the potential environmental and social impacts; c) China was in the process
of implementing a large-scale hydropower development program in the upper reaches of the Mekong River which could significantly alter the downstream flow
regimes and hence, there was a need to bring China into a more active cooperation framework (Far Eastern Economic Review, 1992).

Basin nations’ agreement

In 1995, the Agreement on Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin was signed by Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam and
established the Mekong River Commission. The philosophy of the agreement is “to improve the livelihood of 60 million people living in the Lower Mekong River
Basin. China and Myanmar which are part of the Mekong River Basin have not signed the agreement but were designated Asean “dialogue partners” in 1996 and
have participated in various Mekong River-related activities.

A close look at the 1995 agreement reveals that while signatory countries agreed to “cooperate in maintaining minimum flow levels of no less than the acceptable
monthly minimum flow rates during each month of the dry season,” the same agreement does not require consent/consensus/agreem ent of the riparians for
national projects which may affect the river flow levels. The prior legal agreement in place required the consent/concurrence of all riparian countries for any
national project that involved the Mekong River. Moreover, the agreement is silent about distribution of water to the member states although basic principles to be
applied in developing rules for water distribution are set forth in the agreement.
After sixty 60 years of Asean riparian country cooperation in the utilization of the Great Mekong River, some questions surfaced that needed to be attended to: a)
What types of activities are or should be forbidden within the shared Mekong River Basin?; b) Is it possible to harmonize national laws of the riparian countries to
regulate the use of the shared basin?; c) What does it really mean to manage the Mekong River Basin in an integrated manner?; d) What rights and obligations do
upstream and downstream states have?; e) How can environmental flows be effectively regulated within the shared Mekong River basin?

Above all, what approach should be taken if and when the water flow from the Mekong River’s source markedly lessened or diminished because of the gigantic
dam projects of China to divert the flow for its own use to open up agricultural areas to attain food security for its overgrown population?
The author contributed to the evolution and progressive realization of environmental law.

Strategy for disaster risk reduction


AMADO S. TOLENTINO, JR.November 18, 2013

Climate change –induced weather disasters have quadrupled during the last few years. The 2011 horrifying earthquake and tsunami in Japan is one such weather
disaster. The 2013 typhoon Yolanda accompanied by the terrifying storm surge in the Philippines is another.
Tropical storms, extended drought, harder monsoon rains, devastating floods, unexpected landslides and earthquakes are more common now in densely
populated Asia where people are the most endangered when natural calamities strike. The annual cyclones in Bangladesh, the uncommon cyclone occurrence in
Myanmar in 2008 as well as the destruction brought by typhoons Ondoy, Sendong, and Pablo in the Philippines drew attention to these countries’ efforts at
reducing disaster risks in managed ways.

Disaster risk reduction (DRR) systems are now in place in Bangladesh, Myanmar and the Philippines with the support of international organizations like the Red
Cross and the Save the Children and their respective governments. DRR refers to all activities by local communities, families, governments and NGOs that help
reduce in advance the effects of natural disasters. The objective is to cover all risks including the effects of climate change.
Disaster risk reduction system

The main feature of a disaster risk reduction system is a disaster plan and prevention program in endangered towns and villages. It incorporates standardized
warning signals, different flags for use before and during disasters, identification of emergency shelters, evacuation procedures, emergency food stocks (and
replenishment), utensils for immediate use like cooking stoves, water supply, provision of sanitary facilities and others.

Experience with disaster emergency management gave way to the principle of “build back better” which means that damaged structures are not simply replaced
but improved to make them more resilient and intact for the onslaught of another natural calamity.
Like in other areas of environmental management, the institutional arrangement to cope with natural disasters involve not just one government agency like the
Department of Social Welfare and Development but many other environment-related agencies such as those on local governments, health, education, agriculture,
police, public works, etc. The Philippines’ National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) follows that direction through effective inter-
agency linkages and coordination with regional and local governments for disaster remediation operations.

Global level

At the international level, the UN has an International Strategy for Disaster Reduction which aims to guide and coordinate the efforts of a wide range of partners to
achieve substantive reduction in disaster losses and build resilient nations and communities as an essential condition for sustainable development. The United
Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) is the secretariat of the ISDR system and comprises numerous organizations, states, NGOs,
financial institutions, technical bodies and civil society which work together and share information to reduce disaster risks.
It also serves as the focal point for the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action, a ten-year plan of action adopted in 2005 by 168 governments to
protect lives and livelihoods against disasters.

With the prominence of the field of environmental law during the last four decades, the enactment of a legislation on disaster risk reduction and management is
encouraged. One such is the 2010 Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act (R.A. 10121). An action plan and guidelines to define the respective
roles and responsibilities of government agencies, schools, NGOs and other groups is in place. The challenge is to translate into effective local community action
to save lives and reduce disaster risks and economic losses. Above all, a safety culture in times of disasters and emergencies should be established so that
people in danger areas will be well informed and motivated to consciously integrate the risks in their day-to-day living.

Indeed, the success of any disaster plan and prevention program depends on the cooperation of the local people exposed to danger. Nobody is more familiar with
the immediate environment than the local inhabitants themselves who are also best situated to overcome the risks that accompany weather disasters aided by
disaster emergency awareness and preparedness strategies and techniques.

(Mr. Tolentino is a Filipino pioneer in the field of environmental law and served as environmental law consultant to UNEP. He was Philippine Ambassador to Papua
New Guinea and Qatar).

Asean: Better, faster disaster reliefs?


The Manila TimesFebruary 6, 2015

DURING the past three decades, the frequency of natural disasters has increased globally but the worst increase has been in the Asia-Pacific region. Be that as it
may, advances in the science of disaster risk management point out that there are no true natural disasters. Many natural hazards are accelerated by human
activity and no matter how “natural” the hazard, it is human exposure, vulnerability, resilience and preparedness that define whether a given event results merely in
a rainy day or natural catastrophe. In short, human behavior can be regulated unlike the weather.
Studies of experiences about regulatory frameworks for reducing disaster risks, responding to disasters and recovering from them are still in their infancy. Yet
states are increasingly turning to legal instruments at the national, regional and international levels to fight disasters. Are those legal instruments in place meeting
their potential to increase cooperation on disaster risk management and humanitarian response ?

The Asean Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (ADMER) signed and ratified by all ten member states is one such legal instrument.
Agreed on as an aftermath of the 2004 Great Tsunami which hit, among others, the coastal zones of Indonesia and Thailand resulting in much loss of life and
property, ADMER was already in effect (29 December 2009) when one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded, Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), hit the Visayas in the
Philippines.

Some of the militaries of the Southeast Asian countries were forced to respond to the calamity but their voluntary efforts highlighted military operational
shortcomings in the region. In many ways, the response was mainly on a national basis. Some transport aircraft and ships were sent but there was not enough
multinational cooperation. Analysts trace the situation to the lack of trust and confidence between many governments for which reason bilateral and trilateral
arrangements may be more effective.

Aware of the need for greater cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, Thailand and Korea sponsored a Southeast Asian Regional Forum
Disaster Relief Exercise in Thailand while Brunei Darussalam and Singapore co-hosted in 2013 a combined military medicine/humanitarian assistance and
disaster relief exercise with all ten Asean members involved. Additional region-wide exercises were held in Thailand in 2014. Singapore, on the other hand, offered
to the Armed Forces of the Philippines its newly launched Changi Regional Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Co-ordination Center to organize multi-
national military intervention in response to Typhoon Ruby (Hagupit) which made landfall in Eastern Samar on 6 December 2014 but was downgraded into a
tropical storm soon after its landfall.
Take note that while defense of sovereignty is the primary responsibility of the military, the requirement to respond to floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic
eruptions, etc. is likely to remain a secondary priority but one, nonetheless, which is likely to increasingly influence the modernization drive of the Asean countries’
military over the next decades.

In that connection, Singapore procured large multipurpose amphibious ships in 2014. Similar efforts at modernization are being exerted by Indonesia, the
Philippines, Myanmar and Vietnam even if, admittedly, security in the increasing territorial disputes is the prime mover for the heightened emphasis on the
militaries’ capacity and capability in the region.
To fulfill the military requirements related to humanitarian search/rescue and relief operations, procurement targets of Asean countries like multi-role helicopters
and transport aircrafts would not require new designs to fulfill the militaries’ secondary role. What is necessary is inter-operability of joint and multi-national
missions with greater command-and-control capabilities among Asean’s military considering the vastness of the region.

In the light of scientific information that natural disasters are projected to intensify in the Asia-Pacific region in the future, the Asean Agreement on Disaster
Management and Emergency Response mentioned above could serve the Asean countries well if utilized effectively and cohesively. As an agreement on disaster
preparedness, emergency response and rehabilitation, it is about expedited customs and immigration clearance; faster movement of relief goods, tools and
personnel (included are provision of food, water sanitation facilities and temporary shelters); setting up of an Asean disaster relief fund; better utilization of civilian
and military personnel as well as stronger simulation exercises to test emergency response.

Actually, an Asean Co-ordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA) is functioning in Jakarta to facilitate cross border movement
of relief efforts and coordination among member countries in joint emergency response.
An ADMER evaluation report in 2013 noted that many civil society organizations are increasingly involved in advocacy work around disaster management laws in
countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.
However, there is a need to complement legal instruments with strong research which could help boost our understanding of the complexities underlying risk and
disaster relief at all levels.
Ambassador Amado Tolentino, Jr. is an independent consultant and professor of environmental law at San Beda Alabang School of Law.

Environmental refugees: Quickly spreading


AMADO S. TOLENTINO, JR.June 15, 2015

Refugees are people who seek asylum for fear of political, racial or religious persecution or people who leave their homes because of war or civil strife. This
traditional notion of refugees, however, leave out the new, growing and quickly spreading phenomenon of environmental refugees triggered by natural calamities
like earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, landslides resulting to forced displacement of people. (When people seek refuge within their own countries as
environmental refugees, they are commonly referred to as internally displaced persons).

Recent scientific studies show that rising seas will supplant encroaching desserts and other forms of land degradation as the major threat to habitability of many
places this century. The evacuation of 1,400 residents of Papua New Guinea’s Carteret Islands (the world’s first climate change refugees according to the UN) due
to rising sea levels offers a sobering vision of the future for coastal populations.

Global warming brought about by excessive fossil fuel use is reported to result to thermal expansion of the oceans and melting of the icecaps. A one meter
increase in sea level will displace millions of people in the delta regions of the Nile and Ganges rivers, further compounding land scarcity in Egypt and Bangladesh.
To think that world population is projected to increase by 90 million annually all of them in need of food, water and shelter. In fact, as the root causes of the on-
going Southeast Asian migrant crisis unravel, it would not be surprising if it turns out in the UNHCR backed Bangkok Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the
Indian Ocean of concerned countries and other probes being carried out that some of those ‘boat people’ are in reality environmental refugees from Bangladesh
and Myanmar aiming for Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The combined effects of warmer climates and higher seas will make typhoons more frequent and more destructive further damaging the habitability of coastal
areas. Extensive river diversions will markedly lessen the amount of freshwater discharged into coastal areas while higher sea levels will increase saltwater
intrusion thus reducing mangrove forest cover and disrupting major fisheries within fragile ecosystems. Endangered places that may cease to exist include, among
others, Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, Maldives in the Indian Ocean as well as the touristic string of emerald islands and islets in the
Caribbean prompting the formation of an association of small island states working towards solutions to their plight to counter sea level rise before the United
Nations.

Poverty and inadequate development policies along with rapid population growth are the roots of environmental degradation in the developing world. Present
environmental refugees may already be the biggest single group of displaced persons. By the middle of this century, people forced to leave their homes and
places of livelihood because of flooding, desertification, toxic pollution, sea level rise or other environmental disruptions may even constitute the largest in number
among those displaced by all other means.

Improvement in general environmental practices particularly agricultural methods, including soil conservation, which maintains the capability of ecosystems to
support life known in environmental science as ‘carrying capacity’ will help prevent migration of people. Above all, rapid population growth must be managed
particularly in places most vulnerable to ecological disasters.
*An environmental law pioneer, Ambassador Amado Tolentino was a Visiting Fellow at Hawaii’s East-West Center.

Sovereignty vis-a-vis environmental security


AMADO S. TOLENTINO, JR.June 23, 2013
The benefit of a changing approach to the concept of sovereignty over natural resources extends to environmental or ecological security as it relates to facilitating
conflict resolution to prevent or resolve armed conflict or hostilities or threats therefrom between and among States.

In this, the due regard principle in customary law comes to the fore. Nature is civilian in character but it is easy to transform civilian to military objective. An
example is the reported pollution of the Danube River during the Kosovo war resulting from alleged bombing of industrial facilities.

From time to time, military conflicts over water rights was a national security issue between India and Pakistan over the Indus; Ethiopia and Egypt over the Nile;
Turkey and Syria over the Euphrates; Botswana and Namibia over Okavango; Israel and Palestine over the Jordan River.

Water in those areas cross political boundaries with the concomitant boundary issue. The situation, however, creates a natural interdependence between the
States in sharing the water resource drawing people to work together on the water resource availability aspect even when countries were officially at war.

In reality, environmental security problems are solved not only within the confines of national boundaries. Often, they involve transborder areas, e.g. transboundary
deep or shallow underground aquifers, international rivers, other shared watercourses. Actually, governance of groundwater remains weak, perhaps partly
because of reliance on the old concept of sovereignty.
There are no standards for developing boundaries for groundwater systems rendering effective governance problematic. Governance models are moving towards
public-private partnership for environmental management and utilization and groundwater as part of the global commons. And, when the environmental harm or
interference occurs within national boundaries, they give rise to internally displaced persons as what happened to victims of water conflicts or of natural disasters
like earthquakes, tsunamis and floods. Ultimately, their displacement bring them across national boundaries as environmental refugees.

Ecological security must be recognized as an inseparable component of the concept of sovereignty to attain international security. States must recognize their joint
responsibility for the protection of the transnational environment. Opportunities for the shift of political attention and natural resources from the military domain to
the environmental domain should be pursued, i.e. strengthening confidence through cooperation in environmental and other non-military areas.

The issue of environmental security occurs whenever sovereignty issue pose a threat like potential disputes over exploitation of natural resources. Case in point is
the rich in marine and mineral resources but object of overlapping ownership claims of the Spratly islands in the West Philippine Sea among the Philippines,
Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Taiwan where more arguments favor cooperation to preserve/conserve the ecological wealth of the area than
tackling head-on the territorial sovereignty issue. Apart from the long-standing suggestion for an Asean Area of Cooperation in the Spratlys, there are possibilities
for the provision of internationally protected area status in the area through multilateral cooperative options available.

Indeed, the notion of ecogeographical regimes is a useful one in demarcating areas within which natural resources can be taken to be relatively homogenous and,
consequently, the concept of sovereignty duly re-adjusted. The International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine, the two international commissions for the
environmental protection and sustainable utilization of the Baltic Sea, and the comparable mechanism for cooperation among most of the littoral states are
examples of this. In short, there is a continuing need for international and inter-regional cooperation that must be able to transcend the rights of sovereignty now
vested in States. The principle of shared responsibility for the protection of the environment must be fully accepted.

It is also a fact that politico-military and environmental security are linked in terms of opportunity costs. Political attention and material resources spent in the
military sector could be used to strengthen environmental security. A revised concept of sovereignty is an opportunity to shift attention and resources from the
military sector to the environment sector. It could further elaboration of confidence and security building measures in both the military and civilian sectors by the
adoption of less offensive military postures in defense of the environment. Hopefully, after the most recent posturings, the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North
and South Korea would still be headed towards this direction via the proposal to make the area an international peace and nature park for, among others, the
preservation of biodiversity found therein.
Environmental security should be equitable for all States, cultures and generations. Environmental conscience, search for common gains, and multilateral
cooperation should replace attitudes and policies of confrontation with the insurance of recognition of the concept of sovereignty over natural resources. The
removal of confrontation between States is an important precondition for the removal of confrontation between humankind and the natural environment considering
the fundamental necessity of securing the long-term availability of natural resources.
The pursuit of environmental security could become a major agent of change in international affairs, promoting an international order more compatible with human
needs. Common sovereignty over natural resources should be recognized and given priority in the resolution of conflicts and hostilities among States.
*The author was Philippine Ambassador to Papua New Guinea and Qatar; Delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention; and first Director, Environmental
Management Bureau

Asean environmental security concerns


AMADO S. TOLENTINO, JR.October 3, 2015

The effects of extreme weather events caused by climate change are now felt all over the world – warmer temperature causing desertification and inadequate food
supply; low lying areas inundated by rising seas; drought sparked conflicts over water supply as downriver inhabitants safeguard their share. As a further
consequence, food producing areas become uninhabitable leading to disease, mass migration and conflict. Worst of all, the scarcity of oil and mineral resources
raises tensions between powers that import those commodities. All these could undermine a country’s capacity to carry out its key function of providing security to
its people.
The security implications of the earth’s environmental degradation are forcing governments and militaries to review their long-term defense strategies. Defense
planning is increasingly being shaped by climate and resource considerations.

Asean countries have experienced super typhoons and super droughts; storm surges and tsunamis which destroyed coastal infrastructures and properties
including flooding of roads, airports, military camps and destroyed hospitals and health centers which brought about displaced people and population migration.
(Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are not influenced by the weather). The latest occurrence was the horrendous floods brought about by a heavy monsoon
season in Myanmar which deluged 12 out of the country’s 14 regions. Rice growing areas were very much affected as flood water drains through the vast
Irrawaddy river delta. The army helped the residents cope with the situation as the government embraced foreign assistance.

Security implications of severe climate change in the Asean countries include, but is not limited to, (a) huge movements of people from uninhabitable areas; (b)
conflicts over basic resources like water and food exacerbating water scarcity and increase in food costs and food shortage; (c) greater incidence of malnutrition,
risks of infectious disease outbreaks, and even death from rising temperatures; (d) energy production and transportation disruptions of varying lengths and
magnitudes; (e) increased demand for disaster and humanitarian reliefs and limited environment for military operations, e.g. military installations near coastlines
threatened by heavy rains in stormy situations and coastal erosion; (f) intensified heat waves presenting challenges to outdoor training and personnel efficiency.

Environmental disasters could even be taken advantage of for terrorism. Indeed, the impacts of global warming are becoming ever more evident and humankind
must rise to the challenge.
In the light of security concerns brought about by global warming, what is the role of Asean militaries in a resource-stressed environment due to climate disruption?
Take note that energy supply and other imported resources by Asean countries are overly dependent on sealanes, the Strait of Malacca in particular, between
Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. That alone is enough to have Asean countries re-examine and re-think their maritime priorities to have resource protection a
core function of its navies.

The greater need, however, is for strengthening the Asean military capabilities in anticipation of impending climate wars. This means more soldiers with different
training and weapons defense and security systems designed to operate effectively across the full range of foreseeable future environments altered by a warmer
climate – resource war (oil and minerals), water wars (diminished water for agriculture and water supply shortage for domestic use) and migratory wars.
With climate change, the demand for rapid military deployments in response and recovery efforts in disastrous environmental circumstances is likely to increase
too and this is a good time for Asean to plan out to protect its future security, i.e. improving infrastructures including military installations located in or near
coastlines taking into account advances in engineering design, techniques and technologies. After all, it is better to work with nature rather than against it.

Definitely, strategies like Asean military to military cooperation and enhanced collaboration that boost capability and effectiveness will play an increasingly
significant role in helping its most vulnerable members prepare as best they can for a changed warmer world. Whatever the result will be, humankind must adapt
to global warming.
(Ambassador Amado Tolentino served as Coordinator, Asean Nature Conservation (now Asean Group on Nature Conservation and Biodiversity).

Asean: Changed security environment


AMADO S. TOLENTINO, JR.December 18, 2015
NEW thinking about defense and security environment during the last few years pervades countries around the world. This was brought about by, to mention a
few, the emergence of a terrorist quasi-state in the Middle East; home-grown terrorist attacks prompting governments to be on extreme alert; mass immigration to
Europe; the proliferation of advanced defense technologies; internal displacement of people due to armed conflicts; the phenomenon of environmental refugees
including climate migrants as a consequence of natural disasters; popularity of cyber warfare, which gave way to various levels of internal uncertainty and a
new perception about security concerns.

In the Asean region, tension prevails as rivals jostle over territories in the West Philippine Sea which has enormous geo-strategic and economic significance. This
climate of conflict has security implications which forced governments to re-think their long-term defense strategies. In fact, some analysts opined that defense
planning is increasingly being shaped by climate and resource considerations too. Take note that majority of the Asean countries are vulnerable to extreme
climate disturbances due to global warming and disaster relief had come to be accepted as the military’s secondary role.

The changed defense and security environment in the Asean countries has led to ‘procurement drives’to ensure stability. Singapore highlights its island defense
capabilities centered on automation and mobility enhancements. The Singapore Armed Forces recently acquired protected mobility vehicles which enhances
ballistic protection for troops and incorporates a host of safety measures. Earlier, the country significantly boosted its sea power by commissioning six new frigates.

The Philippines, as part of its long awaited military modernization program, recently received new aircrafts including jet fighters and helicopters from South Korea.
Medium lift transport and surveillance aircrafts were also acquired from Spain while heavy landing craft vessels will be acquired from Australia. Meanwhile, as
Vietnam’s economy improves tremendously, reforms to further professionalize the Vietnam People’s Army are under way. Its procurements include, among others,
fighter aircrafts, submarines, coastal radar system, maritime patrol helicopters and fast patrol vessels for the Vietnam Coast Guard.

Brunei Darrusalam’s off-shore patrol vessels from Germany considerably enhanced its naval operational capabilities. To improve training, its Navy is building a
center of excellence for seamanship warfare, weapons handling, firefighting and damage control, communications and engineering training.
Indonesia, on the other hand, identified its need for a complementary submarine fleet that can fill in the gaps of their new ocean-going submarines. Note that
Indonesia maintains a submarine base in Sulawesi Island.

Malaysia, which established its own Malaysian Maritime

Enforcement Agency in 2005, took delivery of its first Scorpene submarines in 2009 while Thailand, the first to possess Southeast Asia’s aircraft carrier has been
exploring submarine procurement.

The rapid expansion of Myanmar’s Navy backed up by an ambitious program of indigenous shipbuilding is well noted in the region. Myanmar’s military or
Tatmadaw, however, was drawn into its largest and costliest military campaign against insurgents in the Kokang region of northeaster Shan State. The Kokang
campaign marked the first time the Tatmadaw undertook combined arms operations involving mechanized infantry, artillery, armor and air power under combat
conditions.

Those acquisitions of military hardware were made prior to Washington’s announcement of a US $250 million plan to bolster naval capabilities of the Philippines,
Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Japan and before Singapore agreed to the first deployment in the city state of a US P8Poseidon spy plane, the most advance
surveillance aircraft of the US, and long before the arrival in Subic Bay of USS Tucson, a high endurance submarine with advanced stealth capabilities.

A rising China turning closer to Russia with US as Pacific hegemon are obviously contributory to the changed defense and security environment in the countries of
Southeast Asia.
Be that as it may, the most pressing priority for Asean countries in the changed security environment is to improve their intelligence-gathering capabilities.
Procurement of munitions alone would not suffice to meet the countries’ security needs. There ought to have improvement in the region’s intelligence sharing and
coordinating capabilities. More than any other time, the new era of “intel-centric” warfare using innovative information, communications and computer technologies
demands the ability to assess, analyze and decisively act in an emerging situation of critical importance. In short, military equipment and weapons advantage
should be backed by an effective intelligence capability.

Ambassador Amado Tolentino served as a member of the Experts Group on Environmental Law of the World Commission on Environment and Development. He
lectures at San Beda Alabang School of Law.

Asean: Defense evolves in uncertainties


AMADO S. TOLENTINO, JR.July 22, 2016

MEDIA campaigns by the global defense industry accelerated during the last few years. Military defense technology exhibition/exposition with seminars,
conferences and free demonstrations of the latest in arms capability increased in number and frequency. Among Asean countries, Singapore and Indonesia are
known to have hosted such events.

Defense procurement drives

Easily noticeable are the Asean countries’ almost simultaneous procurement drives to ensure maritime security. Under the military upgrade and modernization
program of former President Aquino, the Philippines acquired patrol frigates, fast transport and support vessels, helicopters and fighter jets. BRP Tarlac, launched
in early 2016, is the first of two landing platform dock style vessels for the Philippine Navy. Indonesia is constructing a submarine base on Sulawesi Island and
plans to buy Russian-made diesel electric submarines as well as an amphibious jet-powered aircraft with particular ability in firefighting and coastal search and
rescue.
Singapore, which has the region’s only submarine rescue capacity, boosted its sea power with the delivery of Independence, the lead ship of its Navy’s Littoral
Mission Vessel program, an effort aimed at developing the country’s latest and most advanced surface warfare platforms. Malaysia received its first Scorpene
submarines while Thailand, the first to possess Southeast Asia’s aircraft carrier, purchased a Saab Grippen fighter aircraft capable of tactical data links.

The arrival in Brunei Darussalam of German-made offshore patrol vessels considerably enhanced its Navy’s operational capabilities. Vietnam’s procurements
include fighter aircrafts, submarines, coastal radar system, maritime patrol helicopters, and fast patrol vessels for the Vietnam Coast Guard.

Sea drills

With the acquisition of modern military weapons and equipment, naval exercises between and among Asean countries significantly increased, too. These are
exercises designed to improve professionalism, develop exchange experiences and draw lessons from fellow navies. The activities evolved out of the Indonesia-
Singapore, Malaysia-Singapore, and Malaysia-Thailand bilateral naval exercise agreements. In addition, some Asean countries maintain defense engagement
activities with the US (US-Philippines “Balikatan”), Australia and New Zealand. Of late, “Balikatan” (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) was not only about maritime security but
humanitarian assistance and disaster response as well.
To those military exercises should be mentioned the fact that China, with claims to most of the South China Sea, does routine sea drills in the area with the most
recent one described as featuring air control operations with live missiles. China and Malaysia had a joined military exercise in the same way that the US also had
its naval engagement activity in Vietnam. Japan is into joint military exercises with the US and the Philippines.

China vis-à-vis Asean

As tension mounts in the region, reports say China uses fishing fleets with armed escorts to bolster its maritime claims and even trains Chinese fishermen militarily
for readiness in case of checks and intercepts by coast guards and navies of claimant countries in the disputed South China Sea
To deter China and to reassure its allies, the US undertook last month drills in the Philippine waters “close to the disputed waters,” making use of its awesome
USS John Stennis and USS Ronald Reagan. While at sea, the strike gap conducted maritime surveillance, defensive or combat training, long-range strikes,
coordinated maneuvers, and other exercises. The US Navy explained, “As a Pacific nation and Pacific leader, the US has a national interest in maintaining security
… peaceful resolution of disputes … adherence to freedom of navigation and over-flight throughout the shared domains.”
Interestingly, the China Shipbuilding Corp. proposed the construction of an “Underwater Great Wall” consisting of a network of ship and sub-surface sensors that
could significantly erode the undersea warfare advantage held by the US. Specific components of the surveillance system will include underwater security
equipment as well as marine oil and gas exploration devices.

Asean’s united front toward China?

So far, as a regional bloc, Asean has not presented a united front toward China on the South China Sea issue. While the Philippines and Vietnam have come into
direct confrontation with China, the Mekong River riparian countries Laos and Cambodia prefer to side with China. Indonesia and Singapore have been a bit
outspoken compared to Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei Darussalam, which chose cautiously to take the middle stand. This situation enabled China to expand its
sway over much of the South China Sea despite overlapping claims. Add to that the “Asean way” of non-interference into their respective internal affairs.
The expectation was Asean would make a clear joint statement after the promulgation of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision in the case brought by the
Philippines against China. None is in the offing. Perhaps, it will not make a joint statement at all as it seems the arbitration decision even further raised regional
tensions undermining the Asean objective of regional integration.

Asean’s changed security environment

There is now a new perception about security concerns in the Asean due to the proliferation of advanced defense technologies, recent terrorist attacks around the
world, the phenomenon of environmental refugees as a consequence of natural disasters, to mention a few. In connection therewith, the security implications of
overlapping claims over parts of the South China Sea have forced Asean governments to rethink their long-term defense strategies.
Be that as it may, defense planning these days is increasingly being shaped by climate and resource considerations. Take note that majority of Asean countries
are vulnerable to extreme climate disturbances due to global warming and disaster relief, which had come to be accepted as the military’s secondary role.

The most pressing priority for Asean countries in the changed security environment is to improve their intelligence-gathering capabilities. Procurement of munitions
alone would not suffice. There ought to have improvement in the region’s intelligence sharing and coordinating capabilities. The era of computer technologies
demands the ability to assess, analyze and decisively act in an emerging situation of critical importance. In short, military equipment and weapons should be
backed up by an effective intelligence capability.

Asean environmental security concerns


Apart from security concerns as mentioned above, the effects of extreme weather events caused by climate change are more evident in Asean countries. Security
implications of severe climate change in the region include but not limited to: (1) huge movements of people from areas of natural disasters and internal armed
fights; (2) conflicts over basic resources like water and food, exacerbating water scarcity and increasing food costs and food shortage; (3) greater incidence of
malnutrition, risks of infectious diseases outbreaks; (4) increased demand for disaster and humanitarian relief; and (5) intensified heat waves presenting
challenges to the military’s outdoor training and personnel efficiency.

In the light of security concerns brought about by global warming, what is the role of Asean militaries in a resource stressed environment due to climate disruption?
For one, energy supply and other imported resources by Asean countries are overly dependent on sea lanes, specifically the Strait of Malacca straddling Malaysia,
Singapore and Indonesia. That alone is enough to have Asean countries reexamine their maritime priorities to have resource protection a core function of their
navies.

With climate change, the demand for rapid and coordinated military deployment in response and recovery efforts in disastrous environmental circumstances is
likely to increase, and this is a good time for Asean to plan out and protect its future security, i.e., improving infrastructures, including military installations located in
or near coastlines—taking into account advances in engineering design techniques and technologies. Indeed, it is better to work with nature rather than against it.

‘Asean Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response’

Despite procurement drives and sea drills, Asean countries are hopeful the increased tensions resulting from the arbitral decision could be successfully managed
to avoid actual armed conflict. Emerging lately from Asean leaderships are possibilities for dialogue push, reduction of threats and even the practicality of joint
management for equitable utilization of the resources found in the disputed parts of South China Sea, i.e., minerals, fisheries, etc. Supreme Court Justice Antonio
Carpio suggests declaration of the disputed waters as an international marine park and protected area.

The year 2009 saw the enactment of the Asean Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER), with the objective to “… provide
effective mechanisms to achieve substantial reduction of disaster losses in lives and in the social, economic and environmental assets … and to respond to
disaster emergencies through concerted national efforts and intensified regional and international cooperation.” Pursuant thereto, an Asean Coordinating Center
for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA) on disaster management was set up in Jakarta to assist Asean member states in preparing for and responding to disasters.

The vulnerability of Asean countries to natural disasters has been extensively discussed in various forums and documented scientifically. In fact, Asean countries
already experienced horrendous floods brought about by heavy monsoon season, super typhoons, storm surges and tsunamis, which resulted in loss of lives and
damaged infrastructures and properties; and, although not influenced by climate change, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, which gave way to internally
displaced people.

Defense preparations by Asean countries on account of the South China Sea issue will not be put to naught, considering the worldwide acceptance of the military’s
secondary role—humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. There is much room in AADMER’s identified priorities like environmental emergencies, early warning
and monitoring and climate change adaptation. Specifically, the Asean military would be most useful in enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response
and to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Asean’s defense should shape or reshape itself to meet the challenges in and opportunities for humanitarian assistance vis-à-vis the region’s new security and
environmental concerns. After all, Asean is also about convergence in cooperation and conflict as well as disastrous weather events.

The author is a professor, diplomat and pioneer in the field of environmental law. He writes independently, notably about Asean environmental law.

Maritime convulsions in the ‘Asean’ seas


AMADO S. TOLENTINO, JR.May 25, 2015
“The sea belongs to nobody -but interests clash over its uses.”

AT no other time in history do some Asean countries face several maritime challenges than during this second decade of the 21st century. All because of the uses
of the South China (West Philippine) Sea and its resources – major shipping routes, important fishing grounds and abundant oil and gas reserves. But over and
above those maritime pursuits is the question of territorial (land, water and air space) ownership as developed in law.

“The South China Sea is a marginal sea that is part of the Pacific Ocean, encompassing an area from Singapore and Malacca Straits to the Strait of Taiwan of
around 3,500,000 square kilometers.” Center of dispute is the Spratly Islands area. China’s unilaterally declared “nine-dash line” ownership of 90% of the South
China (West Philippine) Sea overlaps with the competing claims of some Asean countries – Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Non-
Asean claimant is Taiwan. Similarly claimed by China is Natuna Islands at the southern tip of the South China (West Philippine) Sea which is within Indonesia’s
exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and sits on Indonesia’s maritime borders with Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Vietnam. Likewise, China’s recent announcement
of a fishing ban to all fishing activities in Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelago was strongly objected to by Vietnam. Vietnam says it has sufficient legal and historical
foundations testifying to its sovereignty over Hoang Sa and the sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its waters, EEZ and continental shelf in line with the UN Law
of the Sea.
Scarborough Shoal which is well within the Philippine EEZ is contested too. (Japan is into a bitter territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in
the East China Sea).

At the recently concluded Summit of Heads of States held in Malaysia, Asean leaders expressed their concern at China’s massive reclamation in the Spratlys
which “has eroded trust and confidence and may undermine, peace, security and stability in the South China Sea.” Asean foreign ministers were instructed to
urgently address the matter constructively via frameworks “such as Asean-China relations.”

The Asean Chairman’s statement also (ii) reasserted “the importance of freedom of navigation in and over-flight in the South China (West Philippine) Sea; (ii)
called for the full implementation of the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea;” and (iii) demanded that the parties concerned should
resolve their differences in accordance with international law including the Law of the Sea treaty.

The rising tension in the disputed waters prompted the US to warn against militarization of the territorial disputes. Lately, satellite imagery showed the extensive
reclamation activities for a land mass that could support an airstrip, apron, harbor, etc. which China defined as being within its “sovereign” territory. The US navy
sent a littoral combat ship on its first patrol and used a P8-A Poseidon, the most advanced surveillance aircraft in the US arsenal, over the contested area.
Prior to this development, the US had its 6th Naval Engagement Activity in Vietnam. Likewise, the Philippines and US militaries recently held its largest “Balikatan”
exercises in years with nearly 12,000 troops participating (double the number that participated in 2014).

Coincidentally, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly,a leading provider of defense and security insight and information, noted that the rest of the Asean countries are
modernizing their respective navies as part of a wider Southeast Asian trend towards greater maritime capabilities. Singapore has the most potent military in
Southeast Asia. Myanmar, on the other hand, embarked on an ambitious program of indigenous shipbuilding backed up by naval exercises on its own.
The territorial sovereignty issue in the South China (West Philippine) Sea had become an external sovereignty or regional security issue with environmental
security threats revolving around exploitation of natural resources alongside strategic ones, i.e. potential military uses of the islands.

In all these maritime rivalries, ecological security ought to be recognized as an inseparable component of the concept of sovereignty to attain regional security.
Contending states must recognize their joint responsibility for the protection of the transnational environment.
For the rich in marine and mineral resources but object of overlapping ownership claims Spratly islands group, some arguments favor cooperation to
preserve/conserve the ecological wealth of the area rather than tackling head-on the sovereignty issue. In this regard, serious thought should be given to the long-
standing suggestion for an ASEAN Area of Cooperation in the Spratlys as well as the possibilities for the designation of an internationally protected area status, i.e.
Marine Peace Park, through multilateral cooperative options available. These could further elaboration of confidence and security building measures in both the
military and civilian sectors by the adoption of less offensive military postures in defense of the environment.

The removal of confrontation between states is an important precondition for the removal of confrontation between humankind and the natural environment
considering the fundamental necessity of securing the long-term availability of natural resources.
The pursuit of environmental security could become a major agent of change in international affairs, promoting an international order more compatible with human
needs. Common sovereignty over natural resources should be recognized and given priority in the resolution of conflicts and hostilities among States.
*Ambassador Amado Tolentino served as Coordinator of UNEPs Coordinating Body for the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA).

Asean: Waves of naval expectations


AMADO S. TOLENTINO, JR.May 9, 2014

The geography of Asean as a regional grouping of nations is noticeably maritime. For archipelagos i.e., Indonesia and the Philippines, the sea is an integral
component of their respective national profile. Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam depend to a great extent on the sea for their trade
interests. Even the less maritime-based Myanmar and Cambodia and landlocked Lao PDR rely on the sea for national income.
Naturally, many issues confronting the Asean have a maritime dimension. Among these are piracy, smuggling, human trafficking, illegal fishing and territorial
security. These issues brought to fore the unequal levels of naval capabilities in the region. Singapore has the most sophisticated navy especially at maritime
surveillance and modern war-fighting capability. The other countries are only capable of operating within their own coastlines.

Naval cooperation, however, is present under bilateral and sub-regional arrangements. It consists of coordinated patrols and combined exercises like the Malacca
Strait Patrols among Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to counter piracy and armed robbery at sea. There are also combined multi-national exercises to improve
professionalism, develop exchange experiences and draw lessons from fellow navies. Examples are the Indonesia-Singapore, Malaysia-Singapore and Malaysia-
Thailand bilateral naval exercises. In addition, some Asean countries maintain defence engagement activities/exercises with the US, UK, Australia and New
Zealand. The on-going annual joint Philippines-US military maneuvers called Balikatan 2014 is not only about maritime security but humanitarian assistance and
disaster response as well possibly on account of the experience last year of Asean member countries coming to the rescue and relief of Typhoon Yolanda victims
in the Philippines later than expected.

Be that as it may, IHS Jane’s Defence International, a leading provider of defence and security insight and information, mentioned in one of its reports the Asean
resolve to take greater responsibility for their own maritime security. This is evidenced by, among others, the Philippine Navy’s modernization plan which includes
acquisition of two new anti-submarine helicopters, two frigates and four patrol frigates along with a number of patrol craft and fast transport and support vessels.
Also included are multi-purpose attack crafts with missile launch capabilities to patrol its territorial waters. Myanmar has acquired eight Chinese frigates under its
development of naval industrial capabilities program in conjunction with China . Vietnam is acquiring submarines from Russia. The first boat Hanoi was already
handed to the People’s Army of Vietnam Navy and a second one Ho Chi Minh City is on track for delivery.

Singapore has much significantly improved capabilities through deliveries of Swedish and German-made submarines and patrol vessels. It also announced a 2014
defense budget of $9.93 billion, a 3.2 percent increase over spending in 2013. (It should also be mentioned that Singapore has the region’s only submarine rescue
capacity).

In Brunei Darussalam, the arrival of German-made off-shore patrol vessels considerably enhanced the navy’s operational capabilities. To improve training, the
navy is building a centre of excellence, due to become operational in 2015, for seamanship warfare, weapons handling, firefighting and damage control,
communications and engineering training. Indonesia, on the other hand, is constructing a submarine base in Sulawesi Island and plans to procure up to 12 boats
to augment its submarine force. It also announced it would purchase submarines from South Korea. Submarines, after all, are the most cost effective way of
denying maritime territory to a hostile armada. In fact, not every navy requires an ocean-going submarine. Asean waters are mostly archipelagic and shallow.
Littoral patrol submarines will do to conduct intelligence gathering, act as a deterrent against maritime incursions and bolster confidence.
However, a lot still has to be done. Among these are a review of each state’s responsiveness to defend itself against any and all threats to national security;
effective capability pooling; development of an Asean defence industrial complex; and collaborative defence research and development. In all this, there is a strong
imperative for more efficiency, more coordination and more cooperation among the Asean navies to create the assurance about the region’s self-defence
readiness.

Mr. Tolentino is a professor and diplomat who also does freelance journalism. His special interests are climate justice and environmental diplomacy.

Asean sea region Sea of constraint or sea of environmental cooperation


AMADO S. TOLENTINO, JR.March 11, 2017

IN 1974, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) spearheaded a Regional Seas Program. It is an effort to involve countries bordering the seas to meet
the challenges of environmental degradation in the sea, coastal area and inland, and to link sustainable marine resource management with development. To that
end, an action plan and legal framework are expected to be built up.

For Southeast Asia, the regional seas identified for the purpose of the program was the “East Asian Seas,” referring to the Asean seas in the South China Sea.

UNEP’s role is not only as a funding agency but to coordinate activities, ensuring an integrated approach and taking care that the interdisciplinary character of
environmental problems is not neglected. At the same time, environmental law (national legislation and bilateral, regional and global agreements) was thought of to
provide a firm commitment from States to maintain the environmental quality of the shared seas. Efforts to achieve this may include the promotion of
harmonization of national legislations, the encouragement of the adoption of regional agreements to foster cooperation as well as in the implementation of existing
international agreements.

Sadly, while numerous inter-governmental meetings resulted in the adoption by the Asean member countries at the time (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines,
Singapore, Thailand) of an Action Plan for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment and Coastal Areas of the East Asian Seas Region, it
became evident by 1990 that the adoption of a legal framework (draft Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine and Coastal Areas of the East
Asian Seas Region) would not materialize due to, among others, overlaps of competing claims of some Asian countries in the Spratly islands area of the South
China Sea.

After 25 years, the situation has worsened, brought about by China’s assertion of ownership of almost all of the resource-rich waters of the South China Sea
despite rival claims from Asian countries. Time and again, China has reiterated its “indisputable sovereignty” claim over the Spratly islands and its adjacent waters.
It is even of the view that freedom of navigation and overflight for military aircraft does not apply to the South China Sea because of its claimed ownership of the
area.

The US does not recognize China’s claim. Its military aircraft have repeatedly flown over, and its ships repeatedly sailed in, the South China Sea, passing through
islets where China has built runways and set up military outposts. Clearly, the US is out to assert its right to navigation in the South China Sea through which
thousands of commercial vessels pass carrying some $5 trillion worth of goods a year. The US aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, with its supporting ships and
planes, has moved into the area. Sovereignty and freedom of navigation are about to clash in the South China Sea.

Actually, the South China Sea serves as a constraint on naval and maritime cooperation in Southeast Asia. Differences over threat perceptions relative to China
have been at the root of increasing Asean disunity on security issues. Enmity between Cambodia and the Philippines at the 2012 Asean Ministerial Meeting in
Phnom Penh was emblematic of a deeper emerging divide between continental and maritime states comprising Asean.
In this regard, Cambodia is generally oriented towards China, with Vietnam being the major exception. The situation limits Asean solidarity with respect to territorial
claimants in the South China Sea.

Clearly, the four Asean claimants to the disputed island territory in the South China Sea (Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, which are all
claimants with China and Taiwan) are also divided among themselves such that none has recognized the sovereignty claims of the others in the region. Add to that
the aggravating territorial dispute over Sabah between Malaysia and the Philippines which spilled into a violent incursion in 2013.

The situation described above further limits the opportunity for Asean claimants to agree on common positions vis-à-vis the South China Sea.

Be that as it may, the South China Sea also has some unifying potential within Asean. For one, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea stipulates that littoral
states around semi-enclosed seas should cooperate on natural resource conservation and environmental protection. In this, the Gulf of Thailand littoral states have
been successful in setting aside boundary disputes to pursue joint development. Cambodia and Thailand manifested sincere cooperation despite tensions over
their disputed land territory near the Preah Vihar temple complex (ultimately decided by the International Court of Justice in favor of Cambodia). Likewise, Vietnam
and Malaysia’s joint submission of their extended continental shelf claim to the relevant UN committee in 2009, demonstrate oneness between Asean claimants.

Asean’s effectiveness as a vehicle for cooperation will eventually be tested by the progress in concluding a legally binding Code of Conduct with China over the
South China Sea. The 2002 Asean Declaration on a Code of Conduct with China was non-binding and ultimately failed to reduce tensions over the disputed sea.
At this point, it is not clear if the Code of Conduct’s terms will improve on those of the Declaration or if it will restrain the rival claimants’ activities in the region. Nor
is it clear how the desired legally binding Code will be enforced.

Be that as it may, for the Spratly island group, rich in marine and mineral resources but the object of overlapping ownership claims, there is the argument in favor
of cooperation to preserve/conserve the ecological wealth of the area. In this connection, it is time that serious thought be given to the longstanding
recommendation for an Asean Area of Cooperation in the Spratlys as well as the possibilities for the designation of an internationally protected area status, i.e.
International Marine Peace Park, through multilateral options available. These could further the elaboration of confidence- and security-building measures in both
the military and civilian sectors by the adoption of less offensive military postures in defense of the environment.

Ambassador Amado Tolentino served as Coordinator, UNEPs Coordinating Body for the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA). He is currently the national focal point of
the International Center for Comparative Environmental Law (Limoges, France) which enjoys special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and
Social Council (UN ECOSOC).

ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER)

Purpose:

The ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER) is a regional framework for cooperation, coordination, technical
assistance, and resource mobilisation in all aspects of disaster management. AADMER provides the guidelines for effective mechanisms to achieve substantial
reduction of disaster losses in lives and in the social, economic, and environmental assets, and to jointly respond to disaster emergencies through concerted
national efforts and intensified regional and international cooperation.
AADMER affirms ASEAN’s commitment to the Hyogo Framework of Action (HFA) and is the first legally-binding HFA related instrument in the world. It serves as
the foundation for disaster management initiatives in the region, including for the establishment of AHA Centre. Signed by the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN in
Vientiane, Lao PDR in July 2005, the Agreement has been ratified by all ten Member States and entered into force on 24 December 2009. A work programme for
the period of 2010 – 2015 has been developed and its progress has been monitored.

Overview:
AADMER covers State Parties’ rights and obligations in:
 Disaster risk identification, assessment and monitoring
 Disaster prevention and mitigation
 Disaster preparedness
 Emergency response
 Rehabilitation
 Technical cooperation and scientific research
 ASEAN coordinating centre for humanitarian assistance (AHA Centre)
 Institutional arrangements and procedures