Climate and Environment

Gov’t partners with gas giants to safeguard Verde Island Passage

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Gov�t partners with gas giants to safeguard Verde Island Passage
Fisherfolk hold a protest in the waters of Batangas City on April 22, Earth Day to denounce the expansion of fossil gas plants and liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in the area.
Mara Manuel for Center for Energy, Ecology and Development

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Tuesday announced a partnership with the country’s three largest conglomerates to protect and conserve the Verde Island Passage (VIP).

Aboitiz Equity Ventures (AEV), Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) and San Miguel Corp. (SMC) agreed to assume joint stewardship of the marine corridor between the islands of Luzon and Mindoro in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the DENR and the Department of Energy (DOE). 

“As a framework for joint stewardship and sustainable development, this historic initiative not only underscores the collective commitment to environmental preservation but also heralds a new era of public-private collaboration aimed at ensuring the longevity of one of the world’s most biodiverse marine ecosystems,” Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga said. 

The VIP, located at the heart of the Coral Triangle, is home to over 1,700 marine species, including 60% of the world’s shore fish species and 300 coral species. 

The critical waterway encompasses provinces of Batangas, Marinduque, Romblon, Occidental Mindoro and Oriental Mindoro. 

A key provision of the MOU requires the establishment, in partnership with higher educational institutions, of a marine science biological research station with facilities in the VIP and across the five surrounding provinces. 

According to the DENR, the partnership with the conglomerates aims to improve the lives of communities who depend on the VIP, ensuring their voices are heard through open dialogue, and promoting sustainable access and use of coastal and marine resources. 

It will also contribute to achieving the long-term goals and targets of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, a key outcome of the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15).

Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla said that protecting the VIP goes hand in hand with the government’s agenda of ensuring affordable and reliable energy access.

“We must make sure that—in our quest to provide clean, reliable, and affordable energy to our people—we also pay attention to safeguarding the environment and the communities we serve,” MPIC President and CEO Manuel Pangilinan said.

Fossil fuel fears

Groups, however, expressed reservations with the government’s partnership with the three conglomerates, who earlier teamed up to develop the country’s “first and most expansive” liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in Batangas. 

“MPIC, SMC, and Aboitiz cannot blame us if we raise questions over the sincerity of this MOU, considering their fossil gas business is one of the worst risks confronting the VIP today,” said Gerry Arances, executive director of Center for Energy, Ecology and Development and co-convenor of Protect VIP. 

“By building more fossil gas power plants in the VIP, it is exposing the marine corridor and adjacent communities to pollution, biodiversity and livelihood disruption, and exacerbated effects of the climate crisis,” he added. 

Five of the six existing gas facilities, four of the seven proposed LNG terminals, and nine of the 39 planned gas power plants in the country are located in Batangas. 

LNG has been pitched as a “bridge fuel” that can help the shift to a low-carbon economy. Climate and energy campaigners, however, noted that LNG produces potent greenhouse gas methane, and blocks the transition to cleaner energy sources.

“These three conglomerates can show their sincerity in protecting the VIP by stopping their fossil gas expansion plans, prioritizing instead the development of clean energy from renewables and helping contribute to building the resilience of marine and coastal biodiversity and communities,” Arances said.

Arances said the DENR should instead prioritize the inclusion of the VIP as a protected area under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Area Systems (ENIPAS).

DENR Calabarzon Regional Executive Director Nilo Tamoria earlier said the agency was assessing whether the biologically diverse marine corridor is suitable to become a legally protected area. 

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