Senator Villar supports the declaration of Panaon Island a protected seascape under the ENIPAS law - Oceana Philippines
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Senator Villar supports the declaration of Panaon Island a protected seascape under the ENIPAS law

Press Release Date: September 25, 2023

In January 2023, Senator Cynthia Villar who chairs the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change filed Senate Bill 1690, titled as the “Panaon Island Protected Seascape Act of 2023”, to declare Panaon Island as a protected seascape under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, RA 11038.

“There is a pressing need to declare more protected areas through legislation as a strategy to counteract biodiversity loss.  In this pursuit, I have filed Senate Bill No. 1690 or the ‘Panaon Island Protected Seascape Act of 2023’ , which has counterpart measures in the House of Representatives.  OCEANA’s expedition in 2021 unveiled the marine treasures of Panaon, from untouched coral reefs to diverse marine life – a spectacle that our photo exhibit today proudly displays. These discoveries underscore the need to include Panaon Island under the protective framework of the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (ENIPAS) Act, RA 11038.   We are hopeful for the passage of the proposed Panaon Island Seascape Act within this 19th Congress.” Villar explained.

This island in the southern tip of Southern Leyte has coral reefs with up to 60% of very good coral cover, way above the national average of around 20%. It is home to endangered species listed under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species like whalesharks and sea turtles. The proposed seascape that if enacted, will be called Panaon Island Protected Seascape (PIPS), has an area of about 61,251 hectares or 612.51 sq km covering the municipalities of Liloan, San Francisco, Pintuyan, and San Ricardo in the province.

“The campaign for the protection of Panaon Island gets a formidable boost in the Senate with Senator Villar at the helm of this effort. 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,” declared Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Oceana Vice President.

In the House of Representatives, Rep. Christopherson 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.

Senator Villar, in partnership with Oceana, and Representatives Christopherson Yap and Luz Mercado with former Secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways Roger Mercado opened the “Panahon ng Panaon” Photo Exhibit in the Senate on September 25. It will be available for public viewing for one week.

“The Panaon Island Protected Seascape (PIPS) is not just a designation; it is a commitment to preserving the rich biodiversity of the waters surrounding Panaon Island. By declaring it a protected seascape under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (ENIPAS), we are taking a crucial step toward conserving this natural treasure for generations to come. We have also carefully considered the insights of experts, stakeholders, and the people of Panaon Island to ensure that this legislation addresses the unique ecological, economic, and social needs of this region.” Rep. Christopherson Yap, district representative of 2nd District of Southern Leyte, explained.

“This event does not only highlight the critical importance of preserving marine biodiversity and livelihood, with a special emphasis on Panaon Island in Southern Leyte, but also the embodiment of our goals and aspirations for the island of Panaon spelled out in Republic Act 11038, otherwise known as Panaon Island Protected Seascape under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Seascape”, added Rep. Luz Mercado of 1st District of Southern Leyte.

These bills, consolidated by the Committee on Natural Resources, outline the perimeter of the protected seascape’s coverage in the four municipalities of Southern Leyte, the mechanisms for administration, the prohibited acts and penalties, and the funding requirements to sustain its protection, among other features.

“We are running against time in protecting the biodiversity rich areas in our country. The island is a rich source of seafood and other marine resources that the people of Panaon and other parts of the country can depend on for their nutrition and livelihood. 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.

SB 1690 mandates the government to formulate a management plan that shall promote the innovative, sustainable management techniques including, when biodiversity protection, 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.

“There is so much to be done in the protection of the rich marine life of Panaon Island. But through collaborative efforts between government, private sectors, civil society organizations and communities themselves, we will have the ability to effectuate change in preserving and protecting the marine biodiversity of Panaon,” former representative of lone district of Southern Leyte and former Department of Public Works and Highways, Atty. Roger Mercado said.

For the residents of the island, the rich marine biodiversity and the fish 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.

“Rest assured that given the support of our legislators and our development partners, the Bureau will strive to protect Panaon from any anthropogenic challenges it may face. We have been in the business of establishing and managing protected areas for quite some time now, but we are continuously amazed by the level of commitment and the ever-increasing growth in terms of the interest of development partners in this endeavor. Indeed, this step brings us a little closer to the recently launched Philippine commitment to the Kunming Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework’s goal of protecting 30% of our marine area or the more popularly known as the 30×30 target,” committed Assistant Secretary Marcial Amaro, Jr., Director of the Biodiversity Management Bureau, who represented Sec. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga in the event.

“We are looking forward to the passage of the bill by the House of Representatives and the Senate soonest. With the pronouncement of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., on prioritizing measures to address the impacts of climate change and our international commitment to the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, with the Panaon Island targeted as among the country’s priority areas for protection, 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. This is just the beginning of the many steps to make Panaon Island truly a resilient and healthy ecosystem that will be able to help provide a rich source of nutrients, sustenance and livelihood for its people while mitigating the impacts of climate change,” said Ramos.


Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one-quarter of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 275 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, oil and plastic pollution, and the killing of threatened species like turtles, whales, and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that 1 billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal, every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. Visit and to learn more. 


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