TACLOBAN CITY – Senator Cynthia Villar, the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, has filed a bill to declare Panaon Island as a protected seascape under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act (Republic Act No. 11038). 

In filing Senate Bill 1690, titled the “Panaon Island Protected Seascape Act of 2023,” Villar emphasized that despite the presence of extensive coral reefs and vibrant fish communities, the abundance and biomass of commercially important species show signs of overfishing and other anthropogenic threats. 

Panaon Island is identified as part of the 50 priority reefs in the world that will highly likely withstand the devastating impacts of climate change.

Said island is exposed to typhoons, where nine of the average 20 typhoons that hit the country each year pass through the island. 

The same efforts to protect the seascape of the island are ongoing as Southern Leyte 2nd Dist. Rep. Christopherson Yap has filed House Bill 4095 and 1st Dist. Rep. Luz Mercado’s House Bill 3743, which are now being consolidated as one bill.

The bill, now pending in the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources, outlines the parameters of the protected seascape’s coverage in the municipalities of Liloan, San Francisco, Pintuyan, and San Ricardo. 

It also includes the mechanisms for administration, the prohibited acts and penalties, and the funding requirements to sustain its protection.

Lawyer Gloria Ramos, Vice President of Oceana, an international advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans, said the bill is a formidable boost in the campaign for the protection of Panaon Island. 

“We are grateful to Senator Villar, and the district representatives of Southern Leyte for their urgent action, fully supported by the provincial government, the four municipalities and their constituents, and even by the Fisheries Management Area 8 Management Body,” Ramos said.

“We can now see the fulfillment of the desire of the people of Panaon Island to protect this ecologically fragile island in Southern Leyte that is acknowledged as among the priority reefs that will highly likely withstand the devastating impacts of climate change,” she shared.

Since 2014, Oceana has been working closely with national and local government agencies, civil society, fisherfolk, and other stakeholders to restore the abundance of Philippine fisheries and marine resources. 

“We are running against time in protecting the biodiversity-rich areas in our country. These are our shield against the devastating impacts of climate change,” Atty. Ramos explained. She added that the island is also a rich source of seafood and marine resources that the people of Panaon and the other parts of the country can depend on for their food and nutrition. By Marie Tonette Marticio (EV Mail Jan. 31-Feb. 5, 2023 issue)