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Fishers, advocates fear destruction of marine ecosystem in the name of Verde Island ‘preservation’

The protected Verde Island Passage (VIP) will undergo “preservation” in the hands of conglomerates, which a fishers’ group claims to be “corporate greenwashing.”

The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) pointed out the irony in the preservation efforts since “the companies have undeniably long track records of environmental plunder in the name of their profit-driven projects.”

The proposed protection and management of the VIP is a product of the “first of its kind” memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Energy (DOE), Aboitiz Equity Ventures (AEV), the Pangilinan-owned Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC), and San Miguel Corporation (SMC).

This partnership was formed amid calls for financial institutions to stop funding SMC.

Advocacy network Protect the Verde Island Passage (VIP) urged financial institutions in Europe and the United States to defund SMC for being “one of the country’s biggest developers of dirty, deadly, and costly energy from coal and gas.”

“The Philippines is home to the highest concentration of marine shore fish species in the world, sheltered in a marine corridor known as the Verde Island Passage (VIP). The richness of biodiversity in the VIP makes it comparable to the Amazon. This biodiversity hotspot is being imperiled by fossil gas projects of SMC,” the network’s statement read.

The group also asserted that the power subsidiary of SMC, San Miguel Global Power Holdings, controls fossil fuel power plants: 1.7 gigawatts (GW) Excellent Energy Resources Inc. and 1.2 GW South Premiere Power Corporation.

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SMC is also involved in reclamation projects, which the company denies, and sea-bed mining activities that destroy hundreds of mangroves and thriving coral reefs in Manila Bay to give way to the P740 billion ($15 billion) controversial Aerotropolis project in Bulacan.

“Aside from adverse ecological impacts, the company’s reclamation and dredging projects have caused degradation on the livelihood and displacement of thousands of fisherfolk families. Not to mention that the said company is also the same company that commissioned a tanker that sank off and caused a disastrous oil spill in Oriental Mindoro last year,” Pamalakaya said.

They added that the other three companies are involved in the operation of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal on the coastline of Ilihan, Batangas, encompassing the VIP. The LNG expansion releases methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas that threatens marine life in Batangas. In fact, it is reported that the water quality in the area has degraded and the marine ecology exhibited a reduction in fish biodiversity.

“Operating these plants and increasing shipping activities for LNG importation lead to the degradation of marine and coastal ecosystems and livelihoods of communities in their vicinity,” Protect VIP’s letter read.

Instead of protection, the partnership spelled “impending destruction” for the groups, which could threaten two million coastal populations.

“We are certain that nothing beneficial for VIP’s marine ecosystem will ever come out from this partnership which is nothing but a corporate greenwashing,” PAMALAKAYA National Chairperson Fernando Hicap said.

He added that the DENR and DOE are “detestable” for directly involving these corporations, which they claim to be notorious environmental plunderers.

The best course of action for the DENR, as recommended by Protect VIP network, is to advocate for the inclusion of the VIP in the Expanded National Integrated Protected Area. Meanwhile, the network also calls on the DOE to end the “reckless endorsement and promotion of fossil gas and other destructive resources.” 

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