Locals, environmentalists renew call to protect Verde Island Passage from gas projects

Rosette Adel - Philstar.com
Locals, environmentalists renew call to protect Verde Island Passage from gas projects
This 2015 file photo shows underwater view of Verde Island Passage.
SEA Institute - Verde Island Passage / Facebook

MANILA, Philippines — Communities around Verde Island Passage area and environmental advocates on Tuesday sent protest letters calling for the protection of what they called the country’s Ground Zero for marine diversity.

The community stakeholders and civil society organizations wrote two separate letters bearing their concerns and opposition to the expansion of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals in Batangas, which are seen to cause detrimental and irreversible effects to the Verde Island Passage and the local communities that are dependent on it.

They asked Linseed Field Power Corporation president Herbert Hernane and SMC Global Power Corp. chairman Ramon Ang to withdraw their funding of the fossil gas and LNG projects in the area.

“Pursuing these fossil gas projects is planting illness at the very heart of a global epicenter for marine biodiversity in the world. Life in the Verde Island Passage must continue thriving to sustain the millions of Filipinos who rely on it for food and to make a living,” said Fr. Edwin Gariguez of the Social Action Center of Calapan (SAC) in Oriental Mindoro, lead convenor of Protect VIP.

The campaign network said fisherfolk and workers in the tourism, diving, and other sectors are among those whose livelihoods will be affected by the two projects if they enter the construction and operation stages.

The island passage is also a source of livelihood of shipping sectors through the Batangas, Manila, and Subic international ports.

Verde Island Passage stretches for more than 1.4 million hectares through the provinces of Batangas, Marinduque, Occidental and Oriental Mindoro Occidental, and Romblon.

It is home to more than 1,736 fish species within a 10-kilometer area, 338 coral species, and thousands of others. It likewise houses 60% of all known shorefish species in the world.

In 2006, an international team of marine conservationists declared it as the "Center of the Center of Marine Shorefish Biodiversity."

However, the construction of fossil gas and LNG projects is feared to contribute to the increase in the disposal of liquid waste and bilge water from ships and increasing the risk of oil spills.

“Communities in Batangas and neighboring provinces are already reeling from the lost tourism and health troubles brought by COVID-19, and we cannot afford to lose VIP if we hope to revive our local industries in the near future. We hope these companies will listen to our pleas and look to our local government officials to heighten efforts in protecting VIP,” Jake Calangi, president of the Resorts Owners Association of Mabini said.

Civil society and VIP stakeholders, including a dozen fisherfolk organizations, conservation groups such as Greenpeace Southeast Asia, faith-based and climate justice and action formations, and three bishops from the Catholic Church joined in the calls to condemn these projects perceived harmful to Verde Island Passage.

“It is our duty to care for nature and the people who would be most affected by activities that hurt it. In the context of the ecological and climate crises we face, protecting our marine biodiversity must be an utmost priority,” Bishop Colin Bagaforo, chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Social Action, Justice, and Peace of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines said.

Aside from the proponents of the project, the campaign network also wrote letters to domestic and international banks and investors including Standard Chartered from the UK, DBS Bank from Singapore, Japan Bank for International Cooperation and Mizuho from Japan, Credit Suisse from Switzerland, Deutsche Bank AG from Germany, and Chinabank and DBP from the Philippines. They urged these investors tapped to finance these projects, to likewise withdraw their support.

“On top of harming what is among the last marine biodiversity frontiers in the world, proposed fossil gas and LNG facilities in Batangas are hindering what could be a swift transition to sustainable energy from — of which we have an abundant supply that largely remains untapped — and stand in direct opposition to the ambition of limiting global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C,”  Gerry Arances, executive director of think-tank Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) and convenor of energy advocacy group Power for People Coalition (P4P) said.

“By funding these projects, these local and international banks are turning climate-vulnerable Philippines into a dumpsite for global gas supply, and allowing us to write our own climate death sentence,” he added.

'Protect VIP' signature campaign, online petition

On World Tourism Day last September 27, the network also launched a signature campaign with an online petition that brought to attention the plight of the marine biodiversity of the island passage.

The petition made on Change.org called on government agencies such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) and the local government of Batangas City to cease issuing permits for the establishment of fossil gas plants and LNG terminals in Batangas City.

It cited former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Executive Order No. 5788 ordering various government agencies to organize an Ad Hoc task force that would protect and conserve the Verde Island Passage marine corridor.

In March 2017, representatives of provinces around Verde Island Passage and various government agencies solidified their commitment to protecting the island passage through a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) creating the VIP Marine Protected Area Network and Law Enforcement Network.

However, the petitioners said there have been numerous developments in the vicinity of Verde Island Passage that now threaten it.

"These projects and infrastructures seriously threaten life under and around the waters of VIP. The urgency of this matter is undeniable, and we demand and expect our local and national government units and agencies to act immediately," the petition read.

The online petition has since garnered 270 signatures and increased its target of 200 to 500 signatures.

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