Speech: 8th Para El Mar

September 10, 2021

Para el Mar

Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Support Network


Warm ecological greetings to the Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Support Network! I truly love being in the company of people I no longer have to convince to campaign for nature.

I speak to you all in the company of these experts as a legislator. Last year, I spoke at a webinar along with Dr. Gretchen Daily and that event led to my filing of the PENCAS bill, the proposed Philippine Ecosystem and Natural Capital Accounting System (PENCAS) bill.  I am also glad to share that academic institutions such as the University of the Philippines Visayas and the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP) have conducted webinars on the PENCAS Bill. The Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP) is hosting a webinar series that will run through September to November specifically for our Local Government Units (LGUs) nationwide to discuss its potential application to local government development planning and management. I hope my colleagues in Congress see their way through to its passage soon.

We cannot manage what we cannot measure.  For much of human history, we governed and made policy with the assumption that nature is limitless and, therefore, did not need to be counted in order to gauge economic health.  The metrics are Gross National Product and Gross Domestic Product, without an assessment of the value of what we lose once we erase ecosystems for the gravel needed to build roads and structures.  We need infrastructure, but this bill will allow us to calculate what we stand to lose, how much damage we will sustain, and what it would cost to rehabilitate in proceeding with these ambitious targets we set for ourselves.  While this bill is pending, I have also committed to ensure that in budget deliberations, supplemental provisions and insertions can be possible to initially do the studies on the blue economy.  Only with the proper ecosystem and economic data can we solve the problems that beset our longest asset, our coastlines.  Unless we transition the governance of our archipelago to the blue economy model, we will see ourselves persistently ruining the underlying basis of life in our country.  I know you already generate the data necessary to determine where and what benefits marine protected areas will bring and it is obvious to us here in this room that larger MPAs would bring more benefits. I can only hope the environment and natural capital accounting under PENCAS will add to your persuasive powers to convince other sectors to establish and fund more protection.

I also authored a bill prohibiting the use of certain single-use plastics, a reaction to the horror of marine plastics, microplastics entering the food chain, and our country’s humiliating contribution to the problem. House Bill 9147, or the Single-Use Plastic Products Regulation Act, has already been passed in the House of Representatives and is now pending the Senate.

There is no question that legislation is only one part of the effort.  I am proud to say I have authored most of the environmental laws passed in the past couple of decades, from the Clean Air Act; the Clean Water Act; the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act; the Renewable Energy Act; the Climate Change Act which created the Climate Change Commission, as well as the People’s Survival Fund. We also enacted the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act; the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, and even associated requirements to make these laws more real — the Green Jobs Act, and the Environmental Awareness and Education Act.  But my frustration on the levels of enforcement has led me to file the Environmental Protection and Enforcement Bureau (EPEB) bill that will give the Department of Environment and Natural Resources a uniformed force, much like the Philippine Coast Guard is for the Department of Transportation.

What characterizes this spate of laws and bills is the fact that no single agency can deliver environmental justice. We have to each bear the burden and fight for our environmental rights. With solid waste, until we can pass the prohibitions, it will be up to every citizen to ensure that they themselves, their families, and communities do not contribute to the problem. The collection and management of wastes once they are generated across an archipelago become expensive and sometimes impossible.  As our programs to lift people out of poverty succeed, their bigger purchasing power will necessarily lead to higher waste generation.  Hence, the passage of the policies to prohibit what constitutes most of the material that becomes marine waste and ensure post-manufacture collection by the producers will be critical.

Segregation should be at source but for coastal areas, the residual waste remains uncollected.  Until we find better ways to collect the residual waste of coastal communities, I am afraid every citizen’s contribution to the problem of marine waste will be higher and higher. Despite our efforts at policy change, it remains the duty of every Filipino to ensure our country remains as beautiful as when we found it.

So, I ask every person here, make a pledge with me. The government officials here, the speakers, and the experts are doing their part, but beyond these jobs we have, may I quote Dr. Seuss whose Lorax character said “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not”.

Hence, everyone who has committed himself or herself to a great cause, like you all have for the ocean, must also recognize the other elements that will contribute to your success. You have already adopted a ridge-to-reef approach but there is more to that than ensuring that the watersheds are planted to trees. I would like to discuss wastewater with you as my final word.  When human numbers were smaller, the land could very well handle our wastewater naturally, with sand and stones doing the incredible service of filtration, the sun reducing fecal coliform, waterfalls, and rivers oxidizing the water.

But our society chose to use potable water to flush toilets. This unfortunate choice has led to the necessity of major infrastructure in the form of sewage treatment pipes and treatment plants.  Unfortunately, we lag behind even other developing countries in this infrastructure, reaching only 20% for the main Metropolis and hardly any for the other urbanized cities. Our public investment in them as against roads and bridges rangers from nil to minuscule. Our legal system expects the water suppliers to handle this problem but it is a problem of anyone going to the toilet every day. Unless public investment is poured into this infrastructure, we cannot save Manila Bay or any other bodies of water receiving human waste. So, in the coming year 2022, I urge all local governments with large populations to handle this problem once and for all, with the additional funds they will be getting from the national government under the Mandanas ruling.  If we do not act locally, we will not be able to keep our rivers, lakes, and bays usable in the foreseeable future.  And while environmental economic systems will allow us to calculate that damage, it would have been too late.

We all have to be responsible for the impact we have in the habitat we chose.  Unless we convince these LGUs and their constituents to spend their money wisely and ensure that their oceans keep on giving, through tourism, fishing, and other services, our slide to climate disaster will be sooner and compounded multiple times by the destruction of our direct food sources.

I call on you to generate the data that will light the fire of urgency under their executive and legislative seats to make local governments move on these issues fast.  The national government can only do so much and it is also with the burgeoning demands of local governments that it will itself act decisively.

Thank you.