For biodiversity protection, food, and nutritional security and climate change mitigation

Southern Leyte Reps. Luz Mercado and Christopher Yap filed bills at the House of Representatives seeking to declare the Panaon Island as a protective seascape.(Oceana Philippines)

Legislators from Southern Leyte filed separate bills seeking to declare Panaon Island in Southern Leyte as a protected seascape under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act (ENIPAS) and enhance efforts to safeguard the island’s coral reefs and threatened and endangered species.

The island was found by an international study as among the priority reefs that will highly likely withstand the devastating impacts of climate change.

Southern Leyte Rep. Christopherson Yap (2nd district) filed House Bill 4095 and Rep. Luz Mercado (1st district, Southern Leyte) filed House Bill 3743 at the start of the 19th Congress.

Both bills, now pending in the 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.

“The declaration of Panaon Island as Marine Protected Area under the ENIPAS Act is very important to me as it will ensure that our future generation, including my son, would be able to experience the island as we experience it today, with its diverse marine flora and fauna,” Rep. Yap said.

“The formation of a body especially created for its protection would deter commercial vessels from encroaching in municipal waters to do their illegal acts with impunity and keep our most prized reefs from destruction. This will allow marine life to thrive and to be available to our subsistence fishermen and give assurance to our visitors that they will get what they came for or will have something much better to come back to,” he explained.
Following the requirements of the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act or RA 11038, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) with the local government units and other stakeholders conducted the Protected Area Suitability Assessment (PASA) of Panaon Island.

The initial scoring garnered a score of 96%, suitable to be declared as a protected seascape. The PASA report will be presented in a series of public consultations soon in the four municipalities of the island.

The PASA was consistent with the cache of data and evidence that Oceana, together with the provincial government of Southern Leyte, gathered in a 21-day scientific expedition to Panaon Island in October 2020.

The expedition that assessed the corals and reef fish collection in the island, also made a significant discovery that more than half of the coral reefs were in good or excellent condition.

Rep. Mercado said the filing of the bill is important in the light of the dwindling marine resources due to natural and man-made causes.

“We need to sustain the continuous supply of fish and marine products for the people of Panaon and the Filipino people,” she added.

In separate resolutions filed in June this year, the local chief executives of Liloan, Pintuyan, San Francisco, and San Ricardo pledged their support for the efforts to provide national protection to Panaon Island.

According to the resolutions from Liloan and Pintuyan, “designating Panaon Island as a protected area will not only ensure the perpetual existence of the marine organisms by promoting managed access and regulated utilization of the resources, but also further enhance cooperation among national government, local government and concerned private organizations.”   (PR)