Marine area protection

January 30, 2023 People's Tonight 287 views

SOMETIMES it takes a law with a separate purpose to achieve what government policy is unable to.

Can a law mandating the protection and preservation of a natural resource also compel the State to repel unauthorized foreign incursions into the country’s territories, especially environmentally sensitive and protected areas?

We would soon find out when a bill which had just passed muster in a congressional committee becomes a law.

Palawan 3rd District Rep. Edward Hagedorn has expressed gratitude to the congressional leadership and his colleagues over the swift and overwhelming approval by the Committee on Natural Resources of House Bill 6373, or the Kalayaan Island Group and Scarborough Shoal – Marine Protected Area Bill, which he principally authored.

“I thank House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez for his strong support and commitment for the passage of the bill. The good Speaker gave high priority over the bill and allowed the immediate committee hearing to take place,” Hagerdorn said.

HB 6373 aims to declare all low-tide elevations and high-tide features, and an area of three nautical miles surrounding the Kalayaan Island Group and Scarborough Shoal as a marine protected area.

The measure, once enacted, would prohibit and penalize certain acts and activities within the waters of the said area to protect the country’s marine guarantee protection of marine habitat.

Traditional fishing, however, would still be allowed as it is considered generally harmless to the marine ecosystem.

The Palawan lawmaker also thanked all the committee members, especially its chairman, Cavite 4th District Rep. Elpidio F. Barzaga Jr. “for ably leading the hearing and for pushing for its approval”.

He also cited his fellow Palaweño, Palawan 2nd District Rep. Jose Alvarez who strongly showed his support during the hearing.

“But a most special thanks should be given to CIBAC Partylist Rep. Eduardo ‘Brother Eddie’ Villanueva who, in my absence during the hearing, stood in my behalf as the sponsor of the bill. He brilliantly presented and explained to the body the very essence of the bill. His inclusion of biblical passages highlighted the overarching and transcendental importance of protecting our natural resources in the KIG and Scarborough Shoal,” Hagedorn’s statement read.

In presenting the proposed measure, Villanueva stressed that the bill is focused on the protection of the marine environment of the KIG and Scarborough Shoal, and not on the territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea.

He cited a study by the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute in 2019 which showed that coral reefs in Kalayaan Islands – particularly in Pag-asa Island, Panata Island and Sabina Shoal – were damaged by alleged illegal activities, such as blast fishing.

“We cannot afford not to act because the habitat of marine life in our waters, which benefits not only the Philippines but also adjacent countries like China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, is being destroyed,” Villanueva was quoted as saying during the committee hearing.

Hagedorn also cited known WPS advocate and retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio after the latter gave his full support to the bill.

Carpio, one of the country’s leading experts on WPS issues, and whose incisive insights provided a better refinement of the salient provisions of the bill.

Hagedorn also extended his gratitude the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources, Interior and Local Government, National Defense, as well as the Armed Forces for their strong support.

“It is my sincerest belief that pushing for environmental protection for the KIG and Scarborough Shoal is a common ground that every Filipino could rally behind. We do hope that this environmental lens would be likewise used by other coastal states surrounding the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea to promote cooperation and environmental protection for greater peace, stability and prosperity for the entire region,” he said.