7th Annual Conference on Environmental Science (ACES)

Thank you very much to the Philippine Environmental Science Association (PESA), the University of Eastern Philippines (UEP) and the University of the Philippines Los Banos—School of Environmental Science & Management (UPLB-SESAM) for inviting me to be part of this 7th Annual Conference on Environmental Science (ACES). I am glad to be here with all of you today.

An organization like PESA is just what we need in this time and age when the country, and the whole world, is confronted with numerous environmental challenges. The goal for which PESA was organized—“to strengthen the value of environmental science as an interdisciplinary field in analyzing and providing solutions to perennial environmental problems of the country”—is a good indication that the youth, particularly the students of the member universities of PESA, are not only concerned about the problems, but are committed towards finding solutions.

In general, I really believe that science, research and technology play a very important role in solving various problems in various fields or sectors. I have seen that for myself in my discussions with people from different fields of endeavors and expertise—whether in agriculture or environment.

As you know, I chair both the committees on Agriculture and Environment in the Senate. I am also the vice chair of the Senate Committee on Science and Technology. So as I have seen how science and technology coupled with research and education have paved the way in solving most of the challenges and problems in the both sectors.

So, I support PESA’s “proactive stance to continuously upgrade and advance the level of environmental science research and action to address the various environmental problems affecting the country”.

Likewise, it is good that this annual conference tackles key environmental topics and issues such as climate change, biodiversity and conservation, the interplay of environment, resources and population, disaster risk management, and sustainable solutions, among many others.

The inputs and research outputs of the participants in this conference from the academe, industry stakeholders, research institutions, government agencies, private organizations among others, will surely be very useful and helpful in finding solutions and implementing strategies to address environmental problems.

Let me point out that the inputs, ideas and innovations that will result from this three-day conference will affect or solve not only environmental problems. I have realized that environmental problems affect numerous sectors. Thus environmental solutions will also benefit many other sectors.

For instance, climate change and the environmental disasters it caused. As an agricultural country, the Philippines suffers huge losses from the onslaught of environmental disasters. That is why, when we ratified in the Senate 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, there is a need for sustainable agriculture. Our country is frequently affected by extreme weather disturbances, so climate resiliency should be on top of our agenda.

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. Sustainability is really the key to our survival. I am glad that sustainable solutions are a priority of this conference and of PESA. And the interplay or dynamics among environment, resources and population is among the environmental agenda you are focusing on as well.

Some organizations have also approached my office in their bid to enhance the level of research and focus on science and technology in our country. Considered then as one of the stumbling blocks was the inadequate budget of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), particularly R&D, since almost all government departments have R&D components in their operations. That has been addressed, the DOST budget has increased considerably in the last few years. In fact, DOST is among the top 10 departments under the Executive Branch with the biggest budgets—as it should.

But, it was also pointed out to me by the National Research Council of the Philippines (NCRP) that while the budget allocation has continually increased, its percentage share in the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) has not even reached one per cent. It stands at around 0.09% of our GDP, which is very low compared to our neighboring countries. Malaysia spends 0.63% of its GDP for research; Thailand, 0.25% and Taiwan. 2.3%.

So, it is good that there are other organizations and institutions which provide the much-need training and extension support. And we encourage more private sector participation in the areas of R&D as well as science and technology.

As a legislator, there is also a conscious effort on my part to make sure that my proposed bills in the Senate have a provision or component that will support training, education, mechanization, research and development (R&D) among others.

In legislating laws, implementing projects, and carrying out my other advocacies, it really an important realization that the concerns and challenges confronting us are interconnected and the steps and solutions that we need to implement are also interlinked.

Another good example of that interconnectedness is between fisheries and food security and marine biodiversity and pollution.  There is a warning that by 2050, our oceans may become “virtual deserts” if we continue to fish the way we do, without allowing our oceans time to recover.

Concerns over overfishing have been raised worldwide. Globally, seafood forms a significant portion of the diet of more than three billion people.  So, that will affect food security as well. To make matters worse, there is also a forecast that by 2050, there may be more plastics in the sea than fish.

Overfishing of certain species, as many have pointed out, can also affect that health of coral reefs and the reef’s biodiversity. Better fisheries management and sustainable fishing methods are crucial.

A major legislative action that my committee put in place is the passage of Republic Act (RA) 10654 that amended our country’s 18-year-old Fisheries Code (RA 8550). I was the principal author and sponsor of R.A. 10654 (An Act to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing). Personally, as principal sponsor of the measure, one of my main goals also is to balance the need to increase marine life production and the need to protect the sustainability and biodiversity of our oceans. Admittedly, one of the main problems in the fisheries sector is overfishing and illegal or destructive fishing practices.

That again blurs the line on whether a problem and the solution to it can be classified as strictly environmental because it affects, directly or indirectly, many other sectors. Having said that, the value of environmental science cannot be overemphasized as it provides solutions not only to the country’s environmental problems, but consequently it also addresses other very important issues and challenges such as food security. Our future and survival are also at stake.

So, there is no question about the value of environmental science. The question is in the extent of support and priority it gets and rightly deserves. The concerted efforts and collaboration of all the stakeholders are crucial. And PESA—as an organization that links the academe, government, private sector and others—is in a very good position to take the lead and is doing a good job at it. Rest assured of my support. Keep it up and more power!