Irreplaceable natural heritage
In 1998, then President Fidel V. Ramos proclaimed it a protected seascape. It is counted as one of the irreplaceable natural heritage in the Philippines.
Located between the islands of Cebu and Negros, the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape measures 220 km in length, ranges between three to 29 km in width, and supports a diverse range of marine mammals, fish species, invertebrates and unique habitats.
It is considered a high priority area for conservation of reef fishes and cetaceans, hosting more than 70 species of fishes. Of the 28 species of cetaceans such as dolphins, porpoises, and whales found in the Philippines, 14 have been sighted in Tañon Strait. This narrow marine corridor that separates the Visayan Sea in the north from the Bohol Sea in the south is a major migration route for whale sharks and other large marine fishes.
Tañon is also home to the chambered nautilus (locally referred to as ‘lagang’), an animal older than the dinosaurs and labeled as a living fossil. Nautilus was historically abundant in Tañon Strait and the population is thought to have “crashed”.
DENR officials say that the TSPS is not only the biggest protected seascape but is also the biggest protected area in the country. Spanning an expanse of 3,208 sq. km, it is composed of two administrative regions – Region 6 and 7; three provinces: Cebu, Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental; 42 cities and municipalities and 298 barangays. It is one of the ten richest fishing grounds in the country.
However, the issues faced by the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape (TSPS), such as lack of enforcers and monitoring of violations of fisheries laws, have made it one of the most heavily challenged seascapes to manage and administer. Why so?
Aside from the size, these include perceived overlapping of functions of national agencies and local government units, absence or lack of information to harmonize development and conservation programs or projects and increasing pressures brought about by population and resource utilization.
One of the most challenging was convening the Protected Area Management Body (PAMB) of the Tañon Strait.
Under RA 7586, the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992, the PAMB, composed of DENR, other national agencies, local government units and key stakeholders in the area, is the policy-making body of a protected area. It is tasked to “decide the allocations for budget, approve proposals for funding, decide matters relating to planning, peripheral protection and general administration of the area in accordance with the general management strategy”. The adoption of a Management Plan for TSPS is, needless to say, essential. Without a PAMB being convened, how can a Management Plan be adopted?
RA 7586 provides that there “shall be a general management planning strategy to serve as guide in formulating individual plans for each protected area. The management planning strategy shall, at the minimum, promote the adoption and implementation of innovative management techniques including if necessary, the concept of zoning, buffer zone management for multiple use and protection, habitat conservation and rehabilitation, diversity management, community organizing, socioeconomic and scientific researches, site-specific policy development, pest management, and fire control. The management planning strategy shall also provide guidelines for the protection of indigenous cultural communities, other tenured migrant communities and sites for close coordination between and among local agencies of the Government as well as the private sector.”
In 2007, ecological stewards were alarmed when the oil exploration drilling in Aloguinsan and Pinamungajan towns in Cebu was given the go-signal by Malacañang. How could that happen when there was no PAMB convened and more so, a Management Plan for TSPS?
They said, in the past, it was impossible to gather over 320 PAMB members of TSPS. But sheer determination and convergence of ideas and dreams have now made it a reality.
Last week, around the time that the nation was feverishly preparing for the arrival of the Pope, a most heart-warming development happened in the city. A memorandum of agreement was signed between the government thru the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Region 7 and civil society organizations, namely Oceana Philippines and RARE, Inc., to co-organize a Tañon Strait Stakeholders’ Summit (TSPS) and for the environmental agency to convene the first-ever general assembly of the TSPS Protected Area Management Body (PAMB) in February 10-12 in Cebu City.
It happened because the stakeholders are conscious of their shared responsibility to ensure that TSPS should be protected. In the era of climate change, it is a must for government, civil society and private sector to get their act together to ensure ecological integrity, food security, livelihood of our marginalized subsistence fisherfolk and to build resiliency in minimizing and adapting to the impacts of climate change.
Convening the PAMB and holding the stakeholders’ summit are bold, big and essential first steps to ensure governance in TSPS that is participatory, transparent, accountable, predictable and effective, and to make eventually TSPS as a shining example of fisheries managed sustainably, critical habitats and species protected, and economic and social development that does not sacrifice ecological concerns.
With stakeholders working together, the dream of a well-managed TSPS will be a reality, sooner than soon.
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