4th National Conference on Sustainable Development & 5th Palawan Research Symposium

Thank you very much to the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) and its partners— Palawan Knowledge Platform for Biodiversity and Sustainable Development and, the Jeju Island BR- Asia Climate Change Education Center (Korea)—for inviting me to be part of this 4th National Conference on Sustainable Development & 5th Palawan Research Symposium. I am glad to be here with all of you today.

As a long-time advocate of environment protection and the current chairperson of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, any discussions that promote environmental sustainability is of interest to me. Sustainability as we all know is a very important component of environment preservation and protection. Research and innovations of course play a big role in that as well.

Personally and as a legislator, I have always been a firm believer in the importance of research and development (R&D) as well as technology and innovations in key industries and endeavors in both the private and the public sector that ultimately lead to sustainable growth and development of our country.

I am presently the vice-chairperson of the Senate Committee on Science and Technology. Besides being the chairperson of the Senate Committees on Agriculture and Food as well as Environment and Natural Resources. So I wear many hats. I find that those fields of expertise are also interconnected with each other and in all of them, research, innovations and technology are important.

Let’s take for instance climate change. It is not just an environmental issue or concern. It also affects agriculture and other sectors. As an agricultural country, the Philippines loses a lot from extreme effects of climate change and the onslaught of environmental disasters. Looking back, the damage to agriculture caused by super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in November 2013 for instance, reached over PhP90 billion (about US$2 billion). The losses are such because the typhoon struck between two planting seasons. It damaged about 600,000 hectares of agricultural lands, with an estimated 1.1 million metric tons of crops lost. It also disrupted food supply during that time.

That is why, when we ratified in the Senate last year the concurrence of Philippines in the Paris Agreement, I said it is a victory for the agriculture, the sector most affected by climate change. By joining the global action to cut carbon emissions, we will be able to address agricultural problems which continue to hinder our farmers’ productivity and our food security goals.

There is a direct correlation between food security and environment protection. Thus, the need for sustainable agriculture, considering that our country is frequently affected by extreme weather disturbances such as stronger typhoons, draughts, El Nino/La Nina etc. So, climate resiliency should be on top of our agenda, too.

There is a serious concern about food security worldwide. Based on estimates, there is a need to increase food production by over 60 per cent to meet the expected global demand from a population of over nine billion in 2050. Thus, we should subscribe to sustainable agricultural practices.

Incorporating R&D in the agriculture sector will also help improve agricultural mechanization efforts. Even the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) has acknowledged that we need to invest in R&D to fast-track the growth and development of the agriculture sector, which is crucial for an agricultural country like the Philippines, where majority or two-thirds of the population are directly and indirectly involved in agriculture.

Now, with regional economic integration under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) upon us and we should brace for tougher competition. R&D is of course a key component in science and technology, an area of cooperation in AEC. I know that the Philippine’s R&D is making good progress vis-à-vis our ASEAN neighbors. But admittedly, it is still not as fast as we would have wanted it to be.

I am also a staunch supporter of   agricultural mechanization. I have time and again cited that based on studies, two of the barriers confronting farmers, fisherfolks and agricultural workers are lack of technical expertise and mechanization. Together with various government departments/agencies and organizations, we have been working together towards breaking down those barriers.

On the legislative side, I make sure that my proposed bills in the Senate will also support agricultural innovation. These include the enactment into law of Republic Act (RA) 10848 or the act extending the period of implementation of the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund up to year 2022. ACEF provides a level playing field in access to not only education and training, but opportunities to modernize and mechanize existing facilities or operations.

Eighty percent (80%) of the (ACEF) fund will be in the form of credit with minimal interest, which shall not exceed five million pesos per project loan to cooperatives; and maximum of one million pesos to small farmers. For the remainder of the fund of 20 percent—ten percent (10%) will be extended as grants for research and development (R&D) of agricultural and fishery products, and upgrading  research facilities of qualified state universities and colleges (SUCs); and ten percent (10%) will be used for the funding of a comprehensive scholarship and attractive grant-in-aid program for agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and veterinary medicine education, to be implemented by the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd).

Besides the ACEF law, in all the other bills I have authored for the fisheries, sugar and other agricultural sectors, which have been passed into law, I made sure that there will be allocation of adequate funds to provide for R&D as well as  education and training.

Moreover, I also closely monitor the agricultural mechanization efforts of DA and its allied agencies. It is good that among the priorities of DA is the fast and effective agricultural technology-transfer to farmers and farming communities all over the country.

We have also reviewed the implementation of Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act or (AFMA) under Republic Act No. 8435 and of RA 10601 or the AFMech Law, to ensure that it is maximized and reaches the intended beneficiaries. AFMA calls for the allocation of at least PhP20 billion a year for agriculture modernization-related programs and projects.

In the environment front, I also focused on protecting our country’s biodiversity. The Philippines is one of the 17 megadiverse countries in the world, which host two-thirds of the Earth’s biodiversity and contain about 70 to 80 percent of the world’s plant and animal species.

And as a mechanism to conserve the biodiversity in the Philippines, Republic Act (RA) 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act was enacted by Congress in June 1992. The NIPAS is comprised of 240 protected areas—170 of which are terrestrial (land-based) and 70 are marine protected areas. I understand that 10 of those areas are proclaimed under the NIPAS are here in Palawan.

I felt that it was enough, so I led the present Senate’s move to expand the coverage by filing the Expanded NIPAS Bill. And I am glad to announced that it has been signed into law by President Duterte last month (June 22). I was the principal sponsor of Republic Act 11038 or the law expanding the National Integrated Protected Areas System (E-NIPAS).

The law which amends Republic Act 7586, increases the number of protected areas covered by legislation from 13 to 107, for a total of three million hectares. It also recognizes conservation areas and the management regimes of local government units, indigenous peoples and other stakeholders for the establishment and management of protected areas.

We are very happy to come up with this legislation ensuring protection for more areas in our megadiverse country. This legislation is timely, given the heightened public clamor to protect and rehabilitate our popular tourist spots. So we will not have a repeat of what happened in Boracay.

Among the 94 new areas placed under government’s protection under the E-NIPAS law are three Ramsar Sites: the Las Pinas-Paranaque Wetland Park here in Metro Manila, Agusan Marsh in Agusan del Sur and Olango Island in Cebu.  Also protected now as national parks are popular tourist spots in the country including Siargao Island in Surigao del Norte, Chocolate Hills and Panglao Island in Bohol, Apo Island in Negros Oriental, Mt. Mayon in Albay, Taal Volcano in Batangas, Hinulugang Tak-tak in Rizal, and Palaui Island in Cagayan.

Internationally-recognized areas are also included, namely, the ASEAN Heritage Sites Mount Timpoong-Hibok-Hibok in Camiguin and Mount Iglit-Baco in Mindoro; and Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary in Tawi-Tawi.

I know that Palawan is also becoming more vigilant in protecting its natural resources from abuse and degradation. I read that Palawan’s coastal and forest ecosystems are undergoing degradation from continuous natural resource extraction and climate change impacts.  We should really make sure that there is a good balance between industrial growth and environmental protection.

I am glad that the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development is collaborating with   local government units and other concerned agencies or institutions to strike a balance to achieve equally important goals of sustainable development, environmental protection, social inclusion and economic growth.

And I do hope we will keep on collaborating and working together to overcome numerous challenges such as biodiversity loss and climate change among others.  Saving and sustaining the future is a daunting task and requires everyone’s efforts and cooperation. Thank you and good afternoon to all of you!