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Protecting the Verde Island Passage

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“The MOU, which provides the three conglomerates to take on joint stewardship of the Passage, will be for five years with possible extension”

In February last year, the oil tanker MT Princess Empress sank off Mindoro, spilling the industrial fuel oil it was carrying into Philippine waters.

The waters of Tablas Strait as well as adjacent water bodies like the Verde Island Passage – a major waterway within the Coral Triangle that separates southern Luzon and northern Mindoro – were affected including areas within its Marine Corridor covering Batangas, Marinduque, Oriental Mindoro, Occidental Mindoro and Romblon.

For several months, the incident became the focus of discussion especially among advocates for environment protection.

Meanwhile, the Senate and the House of Representatives conducted hearings in aid of legislation on the cause and effects of the oil spill.

The Verde Island Passage, hailed as the center of marine shore fish biodiversity, spans more than 1.4 hectares and has the highest marine biodiversity globally.

One of the busiest sealanes in the country serving as shipping route between Manila and the Visayas, and farther to Mindanao, it connects Batangas, Marinduque, Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, and Romblon and provides surrounding communities with food and livelihood.

In a resolution filed by Rep, Joey Salceda, he noted “Dr. Kent Carpenter and Dr. Victor Springer published a scientific study in which they coined the Verde Island Passage as the “Center of the Center” of Marine Shore Fish Biodiversity.”

The study found the South China Sea and Pacific Ocean Waters also converge and probably exchange properties within the Passage, bringing nutrients that sustain over 300 species of corals that host nearly 60 percent of the world’s known shore fish species.”

Protection of the country’s biodiversity is mandated in several laws like RA 7586 (National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 1992), RA 9147 (Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act), RA 9072 (National Caves and Cave Resources Management and Protection Act), RA 8550 (Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998).

Executive Order 533 issued in June 2006 adopted the Integrated Coastal Management as a national strategy for sustainable development of marine and coastal resources.

On Nov. 8, 2006, Executive Order 578 was signed which established the national policy on biological diversity, prescribed its implementation particularly in the Sulu Sulawesi Marine Ecosystem and the Verde Island Passage Marine Corridor.

It mandated for the creation and organization of an Ad Hoc “Task Force on Verde Island Passage to ensure the protection, conservation and sustainable use of biological, diversity in the Verde Island Passage Marine Corridor.”

House Bills filed during the 19th Congress include proposed legislations to declare the Verde Island Passage Marine Corridor as a maritime protected area and eco-tourism zone.

At the Senate, a bill referred to as the “Verde Island Passage Protected Seascape Bill of 2022” has been filed.

Once enacted, these proposed legislations will help in the campaign to protect the ecosystem at the Passage.

The drive to protect and conserve the Passage biodiversity got a big boost early this month when a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between national government agencies Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Department of Energy and business conglomerates San Miguel Corporation, Metro Pacific Investments Corporation, and Aboitiz Equity Ventures.

The MOU, which provides the three conglomerates to take on joint stewardship of the Passage, will be for five years with possible extension.

The partnership underscores the collective commitment to environmental preservation.

The parties are required to “establish a marine science biological research station with facilities” in VIP and across the five provinces nearby in partnership with higher educational institutions.

The signing of the MOU is a testament of the government and private sector’s commitment to promote environmental goals as the county participates in the observance of the United Nations Decade n Ecosystem Restoration that runs from 2021-2030.

On the partnership, SMC President and CEO Ramon S. Ang said “We are grateful for this opportunity to join forces with the Aboitiz group, MVP group and various stakeholders in protecting the Verde Island Passage.”

“Preserving our marine resources is crucial not just for today but for future generations,” RSA added.

Under the leadership of RSA, SMC takes an active role in programs for environment protection and natural resources conservation. It has reforestation programs throughout the country which are being carried out by its subsidiaries.

It undertakes flood mitigation projects such as the desilting and rehabilitation of the Tullahan River, San Juan River and Pasig River.

It is also into the planting of mangroves along the shorelines in Bulacan and other Central Luzon areas not only to prevent coastal erosion but also to preserve the mangrove ecosystem.

In February this year, SMC launched the first biodiversity offset program in Bulacan with the inauguration of the Saribuhay sa Dampalit project.

The various environment programs undertaken by SMC demonstrate that sustainable development is a primary consideration in all its businesses.

(The author, book author and publisher, is president and chief executive officer of Media Touchstone Ventures, Inc. and president and executive director of the Million Trees Foundation Inc., a non-government outfit advocating tree-planting and environmental protection.)


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