May is Month of the Ocean. It is a reminder that we, a people heavily reliant on the bounty of healthy seas for sustenance and income, should do our part in protecting them
The sea is the heart that keeps our nation alive. As an archipelago, the Philippines is regarded as the astonishing ‘center of the center of global marine biodiversity'. Photo by Steve De Neef/Greenpeace
MANILA, Philippines – May is the time of the year when many Filipinos flock to the beach or go to remote islands that are still under the radar of travel magazines. After all, we are a nation of more than 7,107 picturesque islands.
Being an archipelago and regarded as the astonishing "center of global marine biodiversity," the Philippines has more than half of its cities and municipalities in coastal areas. These communities are heavily reliant on the bounty of healthy seas for sustenance and income.
In 1999, President Joseph Estrada – through Presidential Proclamation Number 57 – affirmed the ecological importance of Philippine seas. He declared the month of May as Month of the Ocean.
The proclamation mandates the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture, through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, to spearhead the observance. They are to collaborate with the different sectors of society, and conduct activities that shall highlight the conservation, protection, and sustainable management of Philippine coastal and ocean resources.
Despite this national effort, we are continually losing our unique national heritage at an alarming rate. Reclamation projects continue to receive "environmental compliance certificates" that end up destroying sea grasses, corals, and critical coastal ecosystems. The practice of dynamite fishing continues, with fishermen desperately trying to make a living. Worst of all, many of us treat our seas as one giant garbage bin.
It has become obvious that we need to do more than just highlight the need to conserve and sustainably utilize our marine resources.
In Bicol, a single illegal commercial fishing boat can rob 70 small municipal fishers of potential fish catch. If we can just take out even one illegal commercial boat from the sea, it would mean an additional 729 kilograms per day or 175 metric tons per year of potential fish catch which can be shared by municipal fisherfolk. Photo by Pat Roque/Greenpeace
At the start of 2015, milestones were set in the name of our oceans and seas. At the United Nations, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries to brokered a new binding agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas (UNCLOS) to protect the world’s oceans, including all the marine resources.
Before this, at home, trade warnings from the European Union against unsustainable fishing in the Philippines helped put the pressure on government agencies to amend the outdated Fisheries Code of 1998. The law now has more muscle to curb illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing. This was a huge victory for fishing communities and various civil society organizations which had long called on government to take action and take the side of the marginalized fisherfolk, who ended up losing so much against big commercial fisheries.
And just recently, – and after 8 long years – the Supreme Court sided with the environment and upheld people’s rights to a healthy and balanced ecology by declaring oil drilling in the protected seas of Tañon Strait as unconstitutional. This was a landmark decision where the court affirmed the validity of the case, which was filed by fisherfolk and by marine mammals (yes, including dolphins) of Tañon Strait.
Central to all of these victories is the untiring role of various civil society organizations, scientists, well-meaning individuals, and organized coastal communities in shaping radical approaches to address the problem of overfishing and marine ecosystems decline.
These local efforts have resulted to the reduction of destructive commercial fishing efforts, allowed fish population to bounce back, created successful marine protected areas, and halted destructive development practices such as oil drilling, off-shore mining, and reclamation projects.
These successful endeavors, led by community stakeholders, should not remain at the fringes and should be nationally institutionalized by the government. Their efforts should be integrated into policies that will be responsive to the declining national and global situation of fisheries and oceans.
Early morning activity in the world renowned fish port of General Santos city in Mindanao, which boasts of their wide array of fish catch but especially the Yellow-fin tuna that garnered the attention of the region's biggest producers of fish products due to its quality. Photo by Veejay Villafranca/Greenpeace
It is therefore critical that the Aquino administration immediately implements the Roadmap to Recovery that fisherfolk groups, Greenpeace, and other NGOs delivered to Malacañang in 2014. It challenges President Benigo Aquino III to rehabilitate and transform Philippine seas and make it his legacy.
We also call on various government agencies to get their acts together and allocate important resources to hasten efforts to save our seas.
Ending the crisis at sea is a herculean task that also requires the general public to come together and play a more proactive role.
All of us have a duty to perform when it comes to protecting our natural environment, especially our seas.
We should stop trashing our seas. As tourists, we should be smart enough not to buy shell products, dried starfish, or even take home sand. For those who want to do more, try booking yourself in a zero-carbon resort.
We are powerful as consumers and we can contribute greatly in ending illegal commercial fishing by demanding that all fish being sold in various supermarkets strictly comply with government regulation in terms of fish sizes. This means saying no to juvenile tuna and the like. We can further ask seafood retailers and restaurants to adopt a sustainable and fisherfolk-friendly procurement policies to ensure that the fish are legally and sustainably caught.
The oceans should be everyone's concern. We need to take action to conserve and protect what's left of our marine resources to ensure that in years to come our children can still enjoy clean sea, teeming with life. Photo by Steve De Neef/Greenpeace
As we continue to make summer plans and enjoy our fine beaches, may we be reminded of the need to work together and do more for our seas, to reverse the further decline and degradation of our marine ecosystems. It cannot be overemphasized that our very survival depends on it. – Rappler.com
Vince Cinches is the Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines.
Published 3:24 PM, May 11, 2015
Updated 4:22 PM, May 11, 2015
The Philippines' evident risk to natural disasters is due to its location. Being a country that lies in the Pacific Ring of Fire, it is prone to earthquake and volcanic eruptions. In addition, the country is surrounded by large bodies of water and faces the Pacific Ocean where 60% of the world's typhoons are made. One of the most devastating typhoons that hit the Philippines in 2013 was Typhoon Haiyan, or "Yolanda", that killed over 10,000 people and destroyed over a trillion pesos worth of properties and damage to various sectors. Other environmental problems that the country is facing include pollution, illegal mining and logging, deforestation, dynamite fishing, landslides, coastal erosion, wildlife extinction, global warming and climate change.
Further information: Water supply and sanitation in the Philippines
Although water resources have become scarce in some regions and seasons, the Philippines as a whole has more than enough surface and groundwater. However, neglecting to have a coherent environmental policy has led to the contamination of 58% of the groundwater in the Philippines. The main source of pollution is untreated domestic and industrial wastewater. Only one third of Philippine river systems are considered suitable for public water supply.
It is estimated that in 2025, water availability will be marginal in most major cities and in 8 of the 19 major river basins. Besides severe health concerns, water pollution also leads to problems in the fishing and tourism industries. The national government recognized the problem and since 2004 has sought to introduce sustainable water resources development management (see below).
Only 5% of the total population is connected to a sewer network. The vast majority uses flush toilets connected to septic tanks. Since sludge treatment and disposal facilities are rare, most effluents are discharged without treatment. According to the Asian Development Bank, the Pasig River is one of the world's most polluted rivers. In March 2008, Manila Water announced that a wastewater treatment plant will be constructed in Taguig. The first Philippine constructed wetland serving about 700 households was completed in 2006 in a peri-urban area of Bayawan City which has been used to resettle families that lived along the coast in informal settlements and had no access to safe water supply and sanitation facilities.
Main article: Deforestation in the Philippines
Over the course of the 20th century the forest cover of the Philippines dropped from 70 percent down to 20 percent. In total, 46 species are endangered, and 4 were already eradicated completely. 3.2 percent of total rainforest has been left. Based on an analysis of land use pattern maps and a road map an estimated 9.8 million ha of forests were lost in the Philippines from 1934 to 1988.Illegal logging occurs in the Philippines  and intensify flood damage in some areas.
According to scholar Jessica Mathews, short-sighted policies by the Filipino government have contributed to the high rate of deforestation:
The government regularly granted logging concessions of less than ten years. Since it takes 30–35 years for a second-growth forest to mature, loggers had no incentive to replant. Compounding the error, flat royalties encouraged the loggers to remove only the most valuable species. A horrendous 40 percent of the harvestable lumber never left the forests but, having been damaged in the logging, rotted or was burned in place. The unsurprising result of these and related policies is that out of 17 million hectares of closed forests that flourished early in the century only 1.2 million remain today.
Due to industrial waste and automobiles, Manila suffers from air pollution, affecting 98% of the population. Annually, the air pollution causes more than 4,000 deaths.Ermita is Manila's most air polluted district due to open dump sites and industrial waste. According to a report in 2003, The Pasig River is one of the most polluted rivers in the world with 150 tons of domestic waste and 75 tons of industrial waste dumped daily.
Recognizing the need to tackle the environment issues as well as the need to sustain development and growth, the Philippines came up with the Sustainable Development Strategy. The nation for the Sustainable Development Strategy includes assimilating environmental considerations in administration, apposite pricing of natural resources, conservation of biodiversity, rehabilitation of ecosystems, control of population growth and human resources development, inducing growth in rural areas, promotion of environmental education, strengthening citizens’ participation, and promoting small to medium-sized enterprises and sustainable agricultural and forestry practices. One of the initiatives signed in part of the strategy was the 1992 Earth Summit.
Upon signing the 1992 Earth Summit, the government of Philippines has been constantly looking into many different initiatives to improve the environmental aspects of the country.
Currently, the Philippines' Department of Environment and Natural Resources has been busy tracking down illegal loggers and been spearheading projects to preserve the quality of many remaining rivers that are not yet polluted.
This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies website http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/.
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