Southern Leyte 2nd District Rep. Christopherson “Coco” Yap and international non-government organization Oceana express their gratitude to the 52 other legislators in the House of Representatives (HoR) led by Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez who signed as co-author of House Bill 6677, seeking to declare Panaon Island in Southern Leyte as a protected seascape.

“It is with deep pride and honor that our call for protection of this biodiversity gem of Panaon Island was well received by no less than the leadership of this Chamber. We are looking forward to the passage of this bill soon, when the second regular session starts next month,” said Yap.

Rep. Yap and Oceana recently showcased Panaon Island in a photo exhibit in HoR, particularly its impressive coral reefs, mangroves that host the endemic Philippine Ducks, r and other threatened species such as whale sharks, hawksbill turtles, and green sea turtles found in the waters surrounding the island “For a coastal area like my district, food, economic, and job security are deeply tied to nature. This is why it is crucial for us to do what is necessary to protect our seas, which allows us to continue to thrive and enjoy the very freedoms we enjoy as a democratic country. Itong area which we are seeking protection is also one of the best dive sites in the world and has the potential to generate green jobs once we can fully develop it into a sustainable tourism destination like our neighbor Siargao and Boracay,” Yap shared in his message during the launch of the exhibit on May 23.

Yap invites his colleagues in Congress to visit and dive in Panaon to see how beautiful it is and why he continues to encourage his fellow legislators to co-sponsor House Bill 6677 and support this cause.

“Oceana is very proud of the concerted efforts to move for the national protection of Panaon Island’s magnificent coral reefs. Protecting these climate resilient reefs and saving these coral reefs from the continuous threats that hound our marine resources will in turn provide food security and livelihood to so many Filipinos, not to mention the contribution of the country to the global effort to declare 30% of the planet’s water as marine protected areas by 2030,” said Atty. Rose Liza Eisma-Osorio, Oceana’s Acting Vice President and Legal and Policy Director.

To seal the national protection, Rep. Yap who hailed from the 2nd District of Southern Leyte filed House Bills 4095 and 6677 while Rep. Luz Mercado of the 1st District of Southern Leyte filed House Bill 3743 at the start of the 19th Congress. In the Senate, Senator Cynthia Villar who chairs the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources filed a counterpart bill, Senate Bill 1690. These bills seek to declare Panaon Island as a protected seascape under the ENIPAS Act and outline its coverage in the four municipalities of Liloan, San Francisco, Pintuyan and San Ricardo.

On May 15, the HoR’s Committee on Natural Resources provisionally approved the consolidated bill for the proposed Panaon Island seascape pending the submission of a minor revision to the technical description from the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA). The Mapping Authority submitted to the Committee the revised technical description before the session ended on May 26.

Meanwhile, Southern Leyte Governor Damian Mercado also issued on March 16, 2023 Executive Order 18-A, series of 2023, declaring Panaon Island and all of its waters as a protected seascape. This also directed the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office to prepare the rules to implement this order.(PR)