International ocean governance is about managing and using the world’s oceans and their resources in ways that keep our oceans healthy, productive, safe, secure and resilient” (https://ec.europa.eu/maritimeaffairs/policy/ocean-governance_en).
Why is it so important to make our oceans “healthy, productive, safe, secure and resilient”?
Without oceans, there can be no life on earth. We need it more than it needs us.
“Healthy oceans are essential for humankind: as climate regulators, as a source for global food security, human health and as an engine for economic growth. The OECD estimates that ocean-based industries contribute roughly 1.3 trillion to global gross value added. Oceans are also home to a rich, fragile, and largely unexplored biodiversity, which provides a variety of important ecosystem services. For instance, oceans produce half of the oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere and absorb 25 per cent of CO2 emissions.”
During the July 22 Visayan Sea Meeting among governors, mayors and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, National Director and Fisheries Undersecretary Edmundo Gongona, the latter pointed out the staggering economic value of our marine ecosystems: coral reef, P305.10B; mangroves, P12.02B; seagrass, P0.20 billion; and fisheries production, P229.3 billion, or a total of P546.3 billion.
Yet, we are losing them yearly from overfishing at an estimate of P6 billion, blast fishing at P3.3 billion, environmental degradation at P4.8 billion, poaching at P35 billion and post-harvest losses at P57.3 billion or an estimated loss of P106.4 billion.
Due to ignorance, greed and apathy, we continue to inflict so much pressures upon them. It is no wonder our home planet is ailing, no thanks to all of us, the destroyers and self-immolators.
The Constitution lodges the protection of our ocean upon the State. It specifically provides that “The State shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.”
The highest law of the land also declares that the State “shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.” The 1993 Oposa ruling interprets this as a source of both a right and a responsibility for all not to destroy the environment.
Protecting our marine wealth is thus a duty of both the State and the citizens — you and me and everyone else.
The State is represented by all government branches, agencies and instrumentalities vested with the mandates of the various laws. This includes the local government units (LGUs) upon which the protection of the environment as a service to be delivered to the people has been devolved under RA 7160, the Local Government Code of 1991.
The blame game between national government agencies and the LGUs on who is responsible for the failure of the implementation of the various environmental laws, including fisheries laws, aggravates the serious situation we all face.
We are not wanting in progressive laws to protect the environmental rights of our people. We are world-class crafters of laws that appallingly are left to bold and courageous political leaders and citizens to ensure they are implemented.
It is time for government and citizens alike to step up and ensure resilient marine ecosystems and people. It is happening in Tañon Strait, one of the country’s largest marine protected areas, for so long without a functioning protected area management body. With the collaboration of the government, private sector and civil society, including visibility and support from nongovernment organizations, it now has mini-management bodies that meet regularly and oversee the rolling out of the approved General Management Plan including its Enforcement Plan.
The DENR Regional Director Emma Melana, the Protected Area Office led by Park Superintendent Prospero Lendio and exemplary local chief executives are reaching out to stakeholders and make mainstream a culture of compliance of our laws.
Of course, challenges still need to be surmounted, such as the lack of a special prosecutor in the protected seascape, a requirement of the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992, RA 7586, and episodes of illegal commercial and destructive fishing.
Amid the neglect and indifference of some duty-holders, it is refreshing to see exemplary leaders doing their bit for our planet and our people.
I take this opportunity to cite the dynamic stewardship of Governor Alfredo Maranon of Negros Occidental, Governor Arthur Defensor, Sr. of Iloilo and our own Cebu Governor Hilario Davide III in joining forces with BFAR under National Director Gongona, in committing to protect the Visayan Sea, considered an overexploited fishing area.
As one of the richest fishing grounds of the country, with 14 percent of the total marine harvest and comprising 5 percent of the Philippines shelf, it is a “multi-fishery resource with abundance of small pelagic, marine demersal, cephalopods and crustaceans” and which resources are the main source of livelihood especially of the artisanal fisherfolk which are still considered among the poorest of the poor.
Cascading that marine abundance to benefit our people, especially our coastal residents, is a hurdle that requires strengthening of ocean governance and institutions, stronger collaboration among the stakeholders, and institutionalizing science-based decision-making.
Most of all, it requires our citizens to take ownership of these fragile resources and ecosystems, assert our non-negotiable right to a healthy environment and the corresponding duty to protect them.
Let’s do it.