TACLOBAN CITY– The House of Representatives has approved a measure declaring Panaon Island in Southern Leyte as a protected seascape under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act.
The measure, authored by both Southern Leyte Reps. Luz Mercado and Christopherson Yap of the first and second congressional district of the province respectively, was approved on its third and final reading by 247 members of the Lower House on November 29.
The declaration to make the 60,000 hectares of waters surrounding the Panaon Island got also the backing of House Speaker Martin Romualdez, representing Leyte’s first congressional district.
In a statement, Rep. Mercado said that she is happy that the measure was supported and passed into third and final reading by her colleagues, knowing fully well of its impacts not only on the ecosystem but also to the people living around the Panaon Island.
“Panaon Island is known for its rich marine ecosystem that provides both food and livelihood opportunities for its residents. By promoting sustainable fishing practices, we can protect this fragile environment while ensuring economic viability,” she said in a statement.
In an earlier statement, Rep. Yap underscored the importance of establishing Panaon Island as a protected seascape.
“The establishment of the Panaon Island Protected Seascape is a testament to our commitment to protect and conserve our national heritage while providing a platform for sustainable economic growth and climate resilience. It is a beacon of hope for the residents of Panaon Island, the whole of Southern Leyte, and all those who cherish the beauty of our coastal ecosystem,” the solon said.
Oceana, the largest international advocacy organization on ocean conservation and among those pushing for the declaration of the island as a protected seascape, said that once enacted into law, comprehensive protection measures for the diverse ecosystems on the island would be instituted such as the formulation of a management plan and strengthened regulations to prevent overfishing, illegal fishing, habitat destruction, and other activities detrimental to the marine environment.
“The declaration of Panaon Island Protected Seascape sets the framework that will ensure sustainable ecotourism and livelihood activities that balance socio-economic development with conservation efforts,” it said in a statement on Thursday (Dec.7).
The Panaon Island Protected Seascape covers the municipalities of Liloan, San Francisco, Pintuyan, and San Ricardo, all in Southern Leyte.
Oceana said that it has coral reefs with up to 60% of very good coral cover, way above the national average of around 20%, and is home to endangered species listed under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species like whale sharks and sea turtles.
“The passage of the bill at the House of Representatives is a testament that through collaborative efforts we can achieve more in protecting our vital marine ecosystems for the present and future generations. We are looking forward to the passage of the counterpart bill on Panaon Island in the Senate,” Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Oceana vice president, said.
At the Senate, the same measure is being sponsored by Sen. Cynthia Villar who chairs the committee on environment, natural resources, and climate change.
Villar had earlier said that she is optimistic that her bill will also get the support of the majority of the senators, adding that she sees the measure getting approved during the current 19th Congress.
(JOEY A. GABIETA/ROEL T. AMAZONA)