“The campaign for the protection of Panaon Island gets a formidable boost in the Senate with Senator Cynthia Villar, the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, filing Senate Bill 1690 to declare Panaon Island as a protected seascape under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, RA 11038. We can now see the fulfillment of the desire of the people of Panaon Island to protect this ecologically fragile island in Southern Leyte that is acknowledged as among the priority reefs that will highly likely withstand the devastating impacts of climate change,” said Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Oceana Vice President.
In filing SB 1690, titled as the “Panaon Island Protected Seascape Act of 2023”, Villar emphasized that despite the presence of extensive coral reefs and vibrant fish communities, the abundance and biomass of commercially important species show signs of overfishing and other anthropogenic threats. Panaon Island is identified as part of the 50 priority reefs in the world that will highly likely withstand the devastating impacts of climate change, hence, the urgent need for protection and conservation.
The same efforts to protect the seascape of the island are ongoing as Southern Leyte Rep. Christopherson Yap (2nd District) have filed House Bill 4095 and Rep. Luz Mercado (1st District, Southern Leyte) House Bill 3743 which are now being consolidated as one bill..
The consolidated bill, now pending in the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources, outline the parameter of the protected seascape’s coverage in the four municipalities of Liloan, San Francisco, Pintuyan and San Ricardo, the mechanisms for administration, the prohibited acts and penalties, and the funding requirements to sustain its protection.
“We are running against time in protecting the biodiversity rich areas in our country. These are our shield against the devastating impacts of climate change. Aside from that, the island is a rich source of seafood and marine resources that the people of Panaon and the other parts of the country can depend on for their food and nutrition. We are grateful to Senator Villar, and the district representatives of Southern Leyte for their urgent action, fully supported by the provincial government, the four municipalities and their constituents and even by the Fisheries Management Area 8 Management Body,” said Ramos.
The explanatory note of SB 1690 observed evidence of potential causes of large-scale habitat deterioration, such as, crown-of-thorns starfish, trash, and illegal fishing activities can dramatically change the island’s coral reef condition.
The bill mandates the formulation of a management plan that shall promote the adoption and implementation of innovative, sustainable management techniques including, when biodiversity management, community organizing and development, socio-economic and scientific research, site-specific policy development, climate change adaptation and mitigation, disaster risk reduction and management, solid waste management, and gender and development, among others.
For the residents of the island, the rich marine biodiversity and the fisheries that they harvest from the ocean helped them survive the challenges, from the lockdown due to COVID19, up to the devastation they suffered after Super typhoon Odette hit them in 2021.
The island is exposed to typhoons. According to historical data collected from PAGASA and the local government units, nine of the average of 20 typhoons that hit the country each year pass through the island. Of the 27 devastating strong typhoons from 1940 to 2000, 11 of which or 41% directly affected Southern Leyte.
“We are looking forward to the passage of the bill by both Houses of Congress soonest. These are difficult times we are facing. With the pronouncement of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., on prioritizing measures to address the impacts of climate change, we are one with the Filipino people in calling for the urgency in the passage of this highly significant legislation to protect our people and the natural life support system that a healthy and balanced ecology brings,” said Ramos.
Oceana is an international advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans. Since 2014, Oceana has been working closely with national and local government agencies, civil society, fisherfolk and other stakeholders to restore abundance of Philippine fisheries and marine resources.(PR)