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Government big 3 unite to protect Verde Island Passage

The government joined hands today with the country’s three biggest business conglomerates to protect and conserve the massive marine ecosystem of Verde Island Passage, the “center of the center” of the world’s marine shore fish biodiversity.

Spearheaded by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the big three – Aboitiz Equity Ventures (AEV), the Metro Pacific Investments Corporation (MPIC), and San Miguel Corporation (SMC) – agreed to assume joint stewardship of the critical waterway between Luzon and Mindoro islands in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the DENR and the Department of Energy (DOE).

Recognizing the imperative of safeguarding this natural treasure, the government, in collaboration with major business conglomerates, has embarked on a landmark partnership for the protection and conservation of the Verde Island Passage (VIP),” DENR Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga said.

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The five parties today signed an MOU, firming up their commitment to pursue seven key objectives for VIP which stands as a testament to the Philippines’ rich marine biodiversity, earning its reputation as the “center of the center” of the world’s marine shore fish diversity. Spanning the waters between Luzon and Mindoro islands, this critical waterway encompasses the provinces of Batangas, Marinduque, Romblon, and Oriental and Occidental Mindoro. Batangas, Marinduque, Romblon, Occidental Mindoro and Oriental Mindoro.

Its strategic location places it at the heart of the Coral Triangle, a vast expanse renowned as the global epicenter of marine life diversity, encompassing countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste.

The ecological significance of the VIP cannot be overstated, as it serves as the habitat of over 1,700 marine species, including 60 percent of the world’s shore fish species, and 300 coral species. This concentration of marine life underscores the urgent need for its conservation and protection to maintain ecological balance not only within the Philippines but also on a global scale.

Secretary Loyzaga says the MOU calls for the partners to collaborate with relevant local government units, non-government organizations, the academe, international development agencies, coastal communities, people’s organizations and other private entities for the protection and enhancement of the biodiversity and coastal marine resources of VIP.

As a framework for joint stewardship and sustainable development, this historic initiative not only underscores the collective commitment to environmental preservation but also heralds a new era of public-private collaboration aimed at ensuring the longevity of one of the world’s most biodiverse marine ecosystems,” Secretary Loyzaga said.

The MOU takes effect for five years from today with possible extension, and with funding from each of the five signatories that will ensure VIP and the nearby provinces will thrive as a marine protected area.    

Among the key objectives of the partnership goes hand in hand with the government’s clean energy agenda through resilient and sustainable low-carbon development in the VIP.

According to Energy Secretary Raphael P.M. Lotilla, the MOU bodes well for the government’s agenda towards renewable energy. “We express our appreciation to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Aboitiz Group, MVP Group of Companies and San Miguel Corporation for committing to the responsible stewardship and sustainable access and use of the Verde Island Passage in pursuit of the government’s overall energy agenda that aim to facilitate access to affordable energy, ensure a reliable and resilient energy supply, and transition to clean, sustainable and climate centered energy resources.”

Metro Pacific Chairman, President and CEO Manuel V. Pangilinan echoes the calls of Secretary Loyzaga and Secretary Lotilla saying that the community’s welfare and future depend on the parties’ ability to harmonize these goals. “We must make sure that—in our quest to provide clean, reliable, and affordable energy to our people—we also pay attention to safeguarding the environment and the communities we serve,” he said. “But because we have committed partners in San Miguel, Aboitiz, the DENR and the DOE, there are good grounds for optimism.”

Asserting his full commitment to the call for social responsibility in the VIP, SMC Chairman and CEO Ramon S. Ang said, “Preserving our marine resources is crucial not just for today but for future generations. We are grateful for this opportunity to join forces with the Aboitiz group, MVP group and various stakeholders in protecting the Verde Island Passage,” he added.

While noting that the VIP and its rich biodiversity are under threat of pollution, AEV President and Chief Executive Officer Sabin M. Aboitiz also emphasized the welfare of communities surrounding the area. “It has always been our earnest commitment to help safeguard our environment and uplift the welfare of the communities, in this case the people surrounding and are dependent on the Verde Island Passage for their livelihood. Its preservation is of paramount interest and once again the Aboitiz Group, MVP Group and San Miguel Group are working together to do our part,” he said.

Secretary Loyzaga says the signing of the MOU dovetails with the Philippine observance of the UN Decade of Ocean for Sustainable Development and the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), both seeking to stimulate ocean science and generate awareness while catalyzing opportunities for the development of massive marine ecosystem.

A salient provision of the MOU requires the parties to “establish a marine science biological research station with facilities” in VIP and across the five provinces nearby in partnership with higher educational institutions such as the UP Systems, De La Salle University and the California Academy of Sciences.

The partnership seeks to include among its key considerations the improvement of lives of the communities in the VIP, the opportunity to be heard through a dialogue where they can express their concerns, and the sustainable access and use of coastal and marine resources.

It will also help meet the long-term goals and targets of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) which is the key outcome of the 15thConference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

Moves have been made to legislate a measure declaring VIP a “legally protected area,” given that it is home to more than 300 coral species, 1,700 fish species and thousands of marine organisms such as sharks and turtles, while providing livelihood and other benefits to over two million people.

DENR has declared VIP a marine protected area but LGUs in the five provinces want it “legally protected” with the full force and effect of the law to deter potential violators, according to Secretary Loyzaga.

VIP is one of the Philippines’ busiest marine corridors leading to the ports of Manila to Visayas and farther down Mindanao.

Conservation International (CI) depicts VIP as ‘the backbone of the local economy, thriving upon coastal tourism, fisheries, and as a shipping route, but it is becoming increasingly threatened by illegal and destructive fishing practices, pollution, unsustainable land use and irresponsible tourism.”

“Climate change is also a serious concern which could lead to loss and damage of key infrastructure and local food security,” CI says in its website.

Written by Village Connect

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