Top row (left to right): Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Wolfrum (member of the Tribunal in the South China Sea Arbitration); Edcel John Ibarra (FSI-CIRSS); and Prof. Dr. Suzette Suarez (HSB Hochschule Bremen). Middle row (left to right): Amb. Anke Reiffenstuel (German Ambassador to the Philippines); Amb. Gilberto G.B. Asuque (former Philippine Permanent Representative to the IMO); and Assistant Secretary Maria Angela A. Ponce (DFA-MOAO). Last row: Prof. Jay Batongbacal (Director, UP IMLOS).

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI), in collaboration with the Department of Foreign Affairs-Maritime and Ocean Affairs Office (DFA-MOAO), and the German Embassy in Manila, held a webinar entitled “New Challenges to the Security of the Philippines from the Sea” on 16 November 2021 via Zoom.

Professor Dr. Rüdiger Wolfrum, a former judge at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the Philippine-appointed arbitrator in the South China Sea Arbitration (Philippines v. China), was the keynote speaker. He examined the changing definition of maritime security and differentiated it from maritime safety. According to him, maritime safety is concerned with ensuring the safety of life at sea, which includes maintaining the safety of navigation and the preservation of the marine environment. Maritime security, on the other hand, is oriented towards the security of the coastal state, in particular, on the external threats to its territorial integrity from the sea.

Professor Wolfrum pointed out that the definition of maritime security has broadened over time and now includes non-traditional threats like fishing, environmental degradation, and marine resource depletion. Consequently, the broadening definition of maritime security has resulted in increasing jurisdiction of coastal states. He also discussed contemporary maritime issues, such as the assumption by states of jurisdiction over some security threats, and the proliferation of underwater drones. These issues might lead to unilateral actions by states that might cause fragmentation of the law of the sea convention on security issues. He ended his lecture by pleading with states not to engage in unilateral actions to manage maritime security issues.

Three panel discussants contributed to the discussion. Ambassador Gilberto G.B. Asuque, former Philippine permanent representative to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), enriched the discussion by contextualizing the framework discussed by Professor Wolfrum in the Philippine setting. In the territorial dispute between China and the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea, he emphasized that the IMO cannot intervene in the conflict, and that it is largely the coastal states who should work together to resolve the disputes. He also highlighted the need for the Philippines to enact legislation defining its maritime zones based on the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Professor Dr. Suzette Suarez, Professor for Maritime Law at HSB Hochschule Bremen, Germany, explained the main pillars of maritime security and the diverse characteristics of maritime security issues. According to her, there is no agreed definition of maritime security. She emphasized the importance of maintaining discussions and engaging in different forms of dialogues on maritime security.

Professor Jay Batongbacal, Director, Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea at the University of the Philippines (UP IMLOS), explained the differences in the definitions of maritime security between Southeast Asian states and the Quad countries (Australia, Japan, India and the US.) For the Southeast Asian states, maritime security covers a wide range of issues, while for the Quad countries, maritime security is more focused on maritime law enforcement and constabulary missions at sea.

Also discussed in the webinar were the emerging threats to the international rules-based order on maritime security. The speakers deemed it imperative that the existing legal frameworks, which preserve the maritime interests of all states, are protected, in order to achieve maritime security and international stability.

The participants to the webinar were from the diplomatic corps, think tanks, other government agencies, and the academe.