Press Release
May 23, 2017

Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
First National Biodiversity Congress
23 May 2017 | Crowne Plaza Galleria Manila

Our biodiversity and the ecosystems that it helps function are essential to all forms of life on Earth.

The Philippines is very fortunate because not only is it one of the megadiverse countries, but it is also the center of the center of biodiversity, as proven in various expeditions where scientists and researchers have been able to discover new and endemic species in the country.

In 2015, Terry Gosliner of the California Academy of Sciences led an expedition on the Verde Island Passage and discovered more than a hundred species that are likely new to science.[1]

Gosliner said, "The Philippines is jam-packed with diverse and threatened species--it's one of the most astounding regions of biodiversity on Earth."[2]

Meanwhile, following an expedition in the mountains of northeast Mindanao in 2016, Rafe Brown of the University of Kansas' Biodiversity Institute said, "The terrestrial biodiversity of the Philippines is amazing, and this part of Mindanao is the center of the center of that diversity."[3]

Brown's team discovered a total of 126 species, including 40 frogs, 49 lizards, 35 snakes, a freshwater turtle and a crocodile.[4]

We have an abundance of natural resources. But all this wealth is at great risk.

Development activities, land degradation, overgrazing and deforestation, pollution, overfishing, hunting, land-use change, and the overuse of freshwater, have pushed ecosystems to the limit. Our country has become one of the world's top biodiversity hotspots, with a large number of species threatened with extinction.

Biodiversity is the web of life. But the development around us has caused many to think we can live on our own and disconnect from the web, forgetting that biodiversity feeds and heals, provides us air and water, and is a source of livelihood and recreation.

Further endangering the precarious situation of our country's biodiversity is the challenge of climate change. Among the projected impacts of climate change is the loss of thousands of species, along with significant changes in the natural ecosystem.

The rise in average global temperatures will render many species unable to adapt quickly enough to these new conditions or to move to regions more suitable for their survival. A 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius rise in temperature in the next 50-100 years would render 30% of species at risk of extinction.[5]

We have numerous laws that deal with environment and resilience, including the Philippine Environmental Code, Marine Pollution Control Law, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, Environmental Awareness and Education Act, Renewable Energy Act, Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act, Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) Act, Climate Change Act, the Act Creating the People's Survival Fund, among many others.

These laws define the policies and programs to promote environmental protection. Some of these laws date back to the 1970s, but 40 years hence, our environment seems to be in no better state.

Paradoxically, many of life's comforts happen at the expense of sustainability. We are living in a world with finite resources and yet generations have lived over the centuries like there is no tomorrow.

Nature has a way of reminding man of the repercussions of the savage abuse of the natural environment. The Philippines has been issued its fair share of warnings through disasters such as the 2000 Payatas trash slide tragedy, the 2004 mudslides in Quezon Province, and many devastating typhoons like Ondoy, Pablo, Sendong and Yolanda.

Today, disasters loom worldwide?with accelerated global warming. Flooding has become a norm during and after rainfall. People are becoming more aware of these threats, thus raising fear and uncertainty. But we all need to do more.

People need to understand that there is a price to comfort, safety, and convenience.

In the global effort to address environmental issues, numerous international instruments have been adopted such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, and the more recent Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

These international agreements are helpful; but they cannot guarantee results by themselves. Only people can deliver their outcomes.

Many of our country's laws are oriented toward encouraging human behaviors that reduce environmental impact.

The Philippine Environment Code of 1977, among others, mandate the integration of environmental education in the school curricula and the conduct of community education.

Our Ecological Solid Waste Management Law, which I authored and was adopted in 2001, sets guidelines for the reduction of solid waste through community-based measures that include composting, recycling, re-use, and recovery. The proper segregation, collection, and disposal of solid waste, except through incineration, are also mandated.

To strengthen environmental education, we adopted the Environmental Awareness Education Act, which mandates programs and activities in environmental education for the youth.

The Renewable Energy Act was adopted in 2008 to promote the aggressive development of the country's renewable energy resources, which we are abundantly blessed with.

These laws, however, cannot change people's behaviors and mindsets. They set policies that are meant to inspire. Leaders and community members give life to these policies.

The Municipality of San Francisco of the Camotes Group of Islands in the Visayas Region sets an example. The townsfolk established the "purok system," a traditional method of self-organization to build capacity for local action, inculcating the discipline for proper waste management and disaster prevention.

The residents exercised vigilance in implementing segregation at source--strictly enforcing the "no trash segregation-no collection" policy, recycling, composting and the collection of payment for carbon taxes, which are based on the amount of domestic waste produced from day to day. To rehabilitate their watersheds, the local government initiated the Two Million Trees project.

For its innovative efforts, the municipality was accorded the 2011 UN Sasakawa award for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Another model community is Barangay Potrero in Malabon City, Metro Manila.

Home to about 54,000 residents, Barangay Potrero, with the help of Mother Earth Foundation, achieved almost 95% compliance of the Ecological Solid Waste Management Law. It strictly implements "Door-to-Door" and "No Segregation, No Collection" policies. A team of 18 members monitors the implementation, while 37 eco-aides/collectors make rounds using pushcarts instead of garbage trucks to ensure proper segregation at least cost. The community has been nationally awarded for its innovative efforts.

We also have best practices in the private sector.

The Cravings Group, a well-known chain of restaurants, promotes a zero waste lifestyle. The core of their programs is complying with the 5Es of the ESWM Act, which are: Engineering, Education, Enforcement, Entrepreneurship and Eco-valuation. They run their own materials recovery facility (MRF) and have reached at least 95% diversion rate from the dumpsite.

On the tourism front, the El Nido Resorts in Palawan promotes environmental stewardship through its Environmental Code of Conduct called "Ten El-NiDos," reminding guests about environmentally sensitive Protected Areas and the appropriate behavior to ensure conservation.

These examples only show that communities, the private sector, and all of us can be part of efforts to promote resilience and sustainability. We do not need to go into the depths of our forests and dive into the oceans to protect our biodiversity. We only need to adopt a lifestyle that would not harm other living things that we share the Earth with.

In terms of legislation, we have more than enough but we continue to do our legislative work to address loopholes, strengthen current measures, and oversee the implementation of our laws.

I am happy to announce that the Senate has unanimously approved yesterday, on International Biodiversity Day, the proposed Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (ENIPAS) Act, which I principally authored.

Under this measure, local communities and other stakeholders will have the legal basis and incentive to participate in the management and protection of the areas. Representative samples of unique, rare and threatened species of plants and animals and habitat including cultural diversity, will be better protected, by declaring as national parks the remaining parcels of land under the NIPAS.

In the present Congress, I have filed a Resolution urging the Senate to lead the conduct of an environmental audit of relevant national agencies and local government units in relation to their compliance to and enforcement of environmental laws. Our goal is to introduce measurable targets, identify where implementation can be supported, and encourage public accountability of all officials.

Moreover, in my capacity as the Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, we ensured that the 2016 and 2017 national budgets promote resilience and sustainability.

As a long-time environmental advocate, I know how hard it is to convince people to protect our environment and natural resources. People do not completely understand the importance of these resources unless they are directly affected by the effects of its degradation or realize what they will lose if they remain indifferent.

But this gathering today fuels my optimism that we can still be faithful to our duty as stewards of the Earth.

We are confronted with the task of protecting our country's unique, and at the same time endangered, biodiversity. Pursuing a kind of development that has genuine regard for the state of our natural wealth has never become more crucial than today. In order to keep our planet healthy, livable and sustainable, all of us must work together, otherwise, our children will be left with nothing.

Let us use this forum as a venue not only to gain knowledge from one another, but also to transform that knowledge into concrete action.

Thank you.***


[1] Scientists discover more than 100 new marine species in the Philippines during California Academy of Sciences expedition, June 2015, California Academy of Sciences

[2] Ibid.

[3] On Philippine isle torn by environmental destruction, research pinpoints 'bull's-eye' of biodiversity, October 2016, The University of Kansas

[4] Ibid.

[5] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

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