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Advocates urge DENR to protect globally biodiverse VIP amid stricter monitoring of protected areas

Protect VIP, a coalition advocating for the protection of the Verde Island Passage (VIP), welcomed the recent directives from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on stricter adherence to environmental regulations within protected areas (PAs) but laments that the VIP as the global center of marine shore fish biodiversity remains without any legal protection.

This comment comes after the DENR published a memorandum to have stricter monitoring of existing structures and suspension of Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) applications for projects within PAs. Father Edwin Gariguez, lead convenor of Protect VIP, expressed that protection of biodiversity hotspots such as the VIP, apart from already existing PAs, is also vital.

“We welcome the DENR’s stance in finally having stricter monitoring for PAs, as this is part of their primal duty to protect the environment in the first place. However, it is bewildering that one of the most biodiverse marine habitats on the planet is left unprotected by law. The VIP, teeming with natural riches, provider of livelihood to over two million people, and considered to be the Amazon of the oceans, should be enough reasons for it to be included in the Expanded National Integrated Protected Area Systems (ENIPAS) Act,” said Gariguez.

Gerry Arances, Executive Director of the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED), expressed concern for the rampant gas projects in the VIP greenlighted by the DENR.

“Gas projects in the VIP are proof that the DENR needs to strengthen the review of ECC applications, especially in critical biodiversity hotspots which should be free from ecologically destructive activities. To live up to its duty of protecting our environment, DENR must implement more rigorous assessments before greenlighting projects - not only after concerns go viral on social media. DENR should evaluate existing gas projects in the VIP, and suspend the ECCs of proposed gas projects in the pipeline,” said Arances.

Assessments by the think-tank on water quality in the VIP in the aftermath of the oil spill reveal alarming levels of pollution, resulting in fisherfolk and advocacy groups filing a complaint before the DENR to prevent the entry of more sources of pollution in the marine corridor.

Protect VIP said that ecologically harmful activities in the VIP reveal the need for it to be afforded heightened protection as a protected seascape under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Area Systems Act.

“We have already witnessed the VIP and its communities be victims of a massive oil spill, in addition to it being the epicenter of gas developments in the country. The existing and looming perils in the VIP endangers its marine biodiversity and the communities relying on it for their living and the stakes are too high for it to be left unprotected. We urge the DENR to fast-track the declaration of the VIP to be a protected area, for the sake of its communities and the future generations that should benefit from it,” Gariguez added.



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