The Philippines has made notable progress in its efforts to protect the country’s rich marine ecosystems and resources despite many challenges, Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu said as he welcomed participants to the East Asian Seas (EAS) Congress 2018 that is taking place in Iloilo City from November 27 to 30.
In his welcome remarks at the opening of the EAS Congress held at the Iloilo Convention Center, Cimatu also took the chance to call for greater efforts among nations to protect coastal and marine resources in the East Asian Seas region.
The region is home to some of the most economically and ecologically important sea areas of the world, covering over 7 million square kilometers of sea area and 235,000 kilometers of coastline.
However, pressure continues to mount on coastal and ocean resources in the region with its growing population and the presence of other threats such as overfishing, unimpeded coastal development, disposal of untreated wastes and blast fishing in coral reefs, among others.
“It is essential for the region to strengthen measures in conserving coastal and marine ecosystems and its resources to ensure food security and improve poverty reduction,” Cimatu told over 900 participants from Asia, North America, Europe and Australia.
On the part of the Philippines, Cimatu said the country adopted the Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) as a national strategy through Executive Order No. 533 issued in 2009.
The order mandates the DENR to develop a national ICM program in consultation with other concerned agencies, sectors and stakeholders to provide direction, technical support and guidance to local government units and stakeholders in the development and implementation of their local ICM programs.
Cimatu said the ICM has been “mainstreamed in the Philippine Development Plan of 2017-2022 to serve as one of the major strategies to ensure ecological integrity, and clean and healthy environment.”
The environment chief disclosed that there is also an ongoing effort to institutionalize ICM through legislation. Pending such, he said, the DENR continues to implement programs linked to ICM, such as the Coastal and Marine Ecosystems Program.
He also mentioned that a portion of the Philippine Rise, formerly Benham Rise, has been declared as a marine resource reserve on May 15, 2018.
The Philippine Rise is a 13-million hectare undersea region, which in 2012 was declared by the United Nations as part of the country’s extended continental shelf.
Moreover, Cimatu said the recent enactment of Republic Act 11038 or the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act guarantees legislated protection of key biodiversity areas both in terrestrial and marine ecosystems.
“The establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs) has always been considered as one of the key conservation strategies of the country in protecting its coastal resources which is now geared towards scaling-up to networks of MPAs,” Cimatu said.
Cimatu said that the Manila Bay Rehabilitation Project is another major water resource protection program being undertaken in the country to restore the bay’s waters to a level fit for swimming and other contact recreation.
Additionally, the country maintains its commitment to international multilateral environmental agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, and the Coral Triangle Initiative.
Cimatu also cited the Boracay closure and rehabilitation, which he described as a compelling evidence that environmental degradation can be reversed through strong political will.
“The closure may be viewed as a result of nature neglected in pursuit of unrestrained economic interests,” Cimatu pointed out. “Yet it may also exemplify the kind of leadership with a political will that targets to rectify the abuse and mismanagement of the environment.”
The world-famous resort island was closed to tourists on April 26 to fix sewage and other environment-related problems that have led President Rodrigo Duterte to describe it as a “cesspool.” These problems were brought about by overdevelopment, years of neglect and disregard for environmental laws.
Last October 26, Boracay was reopened to the general public after six months of rehabilitation carried out by various government agencies led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
During the first phase of Boracay rehabilitation, Cimatu said that hotels and resorts caught directly pumping out their sewage into the sea were fined and required to put their own sewage treatment facilities.
Cimatu said the wetlands, which play an important role in absorbing excess rainfall to prevent flooding and are home to native and migratory wildlife, were cleaned and recovered from illegal settlements and structures.
He added that the DENR is also implementing a sustainable tourism management approach in areas of high interest for tourists such as Boracay Island and Tubbataha Reef.
“If nature-based tourism will effectively and efficiently be put in place, not only will we be able to sustainably manage coastal resources, but we can also generate revenues for both the government and coastal communities,” he added.
The EAS Congress is a triennial regional conference organized by the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA). It brings together international organizations, experts and multi-sector stakeholders to exchange knowledge and build capacity towards sustainable management and use of marine resources, seas and oceans.
PEMSEA is an intergovernmental organization operating in East Asia to foster and sustain healthy and resilient oceans, coasts, communities and economies across the region.
Aside from Cimatu, environment ministers and representatives from other PEMSEA member countries—Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, North Korea, Laos, South Korea, Singapore, Timor Leste, Vietnam -- are attending the conference.
This year’s theme is “25 Years of Partnerships for Healthy Oceans, People and Economies, Moving as One with the Global Ocean Agenda.” ###