House bills seek sustainable management of Panaon Island reefs for biodiversity protection, food and nutritional security and climate change mitigation   - Oceana Philippines
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House bills seek sustainable management of Panaon Island reefs for biodiversity protection, food and nutritional security and climate change mitigation  

Press Release Date: November 9, 2022

Legislators from Southern Leyte file separate bills seeking to declare Panaon Island in Southern Leyte as a protected seascape under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act 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. 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,” Yap 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.  

Meanwhile, the Southern Leyte State University conducted mangrove and seagrass assessments. Mangroves were concentrated in Liloan and 19 species of mangroves were identified. Of these mangrove species, two were listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List of Threatened Species: Avicennia rumphiana (Vulnerable​) and Ceriops decandra (Near Threatened). Eight seagrass species were documented. 

Other threatened and endangered species documented in the seas around the island are the whale shark, dolphins and whales, sea turtles and giant clams among others. The waters of Panoan Island are aggregations sites for the endangered whale sharks. Ecotourism through sustainable whale shark interactions provides alternative livelihoods to locals which are mostly fishers. 

“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 the barrier these provide to our coastal communities when extreme weather conditions hit them, we are assured of enhancing the 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 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 Management Body of Fisheries Management Area 8 which approved a resolution supporting the declaration of Panaon Island as a protected area. Senator Cynthia Villar and Senator Loren Legarda when she was still a Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives also expressed support to the protection of Panaon Island,” said Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Oceana Vice President. 

Southern Leyte (1st district) Rep. Luz 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. 

Yap said their research on the impact of Marine Protected Area (MPA) in countries around the globe and the other provinces in the Philippines confirmed his belief that we can provide food on the table and stable jobs for our people while protecting the environment and securing their right to a balanced and healthful ecology.  

“Fish catch increased in many of the areas covered by MPA; tourism jobs provided livelihood to people in areas formerly devoted to mining; the neighboring towns experienced these same benefits as well It will also signal to our global tourists that we are serious in our efforts to keep our world-renowned diving sites pristine. The resulting increase in recreational and tourism opportunities would provide jobs and spark commerce and trade,” Yap added. 

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 last year.  

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.  

“The declared policy on the protection of Pana-on seascape is a great help in managing the marine sanctuaries of our municipality. We can intensify the implementation of the rules and regulation in protecting the natural resources and marine reserve of our town. Our municipality’s vision is to be the premier eco-tourism destination in the region and since municipal waters are blessed with whale sharks in our area, a well-managed marine sanctuary would definitely benefit the well-being and natural habitat of these wonderful sea creators,” said Pintuyan Mayor Ricarte Amper Estrella. 

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.”   

“We are looking forward to the passage of the bill by both Houses of Congress within the year. 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 the hope that important steps in the legislation and the executive departments will be urgently taken 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. (END)  


For More Information: 

Joyce Sierra, Communications Manager, Oceana  

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