Church, NGO seek tougher laws to protect Verde Island Passage

The Catholic Church leadership here and an environmentally-focused non-government organization (NGO) are jointly calling for the enactment of more stringent laws to protect Verde Island Passage (VIP), the ecologically rich strait that separates the islands of Luzon from Mindoro. During an ‘awareness summit’ that opened on Thursday, Bishop Moises Cuevas, D.D., Apostolic Vicar of Calapan, warned of numerous threats to the VIP’s ecological balance, including overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and climate change. ‘To care for the earth is a Christian responsibility as emphasized by Pope Francis in Laudato Si. The Verde Island Passage is one of the most diverse marine regions on earth, it stands as an ecological treasure of unparalleled importance,’ he said. The prelate said an estimated 2 million fishermen directly derive their livelihoods from the VIP, and its destruction would not only displace them but also deprive Filipinos of a major source of food. ‘Fishing activities in the Verde Island Passage serve as a vital economic engine for both the local communities that depend on them for their daily livelihoods and the broader national economy,’ Cuevas added. The two-day summit, themed ‘Our VIP: Charting a Sustainable Future for the Verde Island Passage,’ will be held until Friday at the De La Salle Lipa campus. Fr. Edwin Gariguez, convenor of Protect VIP movement, said the summit aims to ‘take stock of perennial and emerging challenges confronted by the VIP and its stakeholders, and efforts and initiatives being pursued or proposed for its protection.’ The meeting of stakeholders is also expected to produce short-, medium-, and long-term plans for the protection of VIP and unify efforts and initiatives to protect the passage, as well as identify opportunities for collaboration, he added. Organizers of the summit said they hope to guide future legislation that would firmly protect the 1.14 million-hectare stretch of ocean from the ill effects of unchecked natural gas exploration activities and oil spills, among other threats to the environment. Meanwhile, representatives of the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED), touted as a promoter of ‘ecological justice, people-centered development, and transformative energy,’ referred to the VIP as the ‘center of the center of marine shore fish biodiversity in the world.’ The CEED said the world ecological community recently named VIP a ‘Hope Spot,’ which acknowledges both its rich biodiversity and cultural and economic significance. The VIP, also called the ‘Amazon of the Oceans’, is home to some 300 coral species and 1,736 species of fish that swim undisturbed along its many underwater rock canyons and reef formations, the NGO said.

Source: Philippines News Agency