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Editorial

Corals and garbage

/ 12:33 AM June 28, 2015

Recent reports present a rash of problematic incidents regarding the Philippines’ natural resources, foremost among which is China’s expansive seabed dredging in the disputed Spratlys—a reckless and dangerous move that is destroying corals and the creatures inhabiting them.

National Scientist Angel Alcala has raised the alarm regarding an imminent drop in Philippine fishery production as a result of the destruction of the corals. “The widespread dredging being done by China is an irresponsible act because all the nations around the South China Sea are going to be affected,” Alcala, a former environment secretary, said at a seminar in Palawan last June 11.

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According to Alcala, the Spratly island chain is a major source of fish for the Philippines and other surrounding countries because of the presence of atolls. He underscored the importance of safeguarding the atolls, which serve as spawning grounds for fish and which are now being destroyed.

In the United Nations, Philippine Permanent Representative Lourdes Yparraguirre said that in the course of its reclamation activity in the disputed area, China “has had to dredge out and pulverize entire systems of coral reefs that took centuries to grow, reducing them [to] landfill, and thus devastating the already fragile marine ecosystem and biodiversity of the region by irreparably destroying the habitat of depleted, threatened or endangered species and other forms of marine life.” She added that the dredging would result in a yearly economic loss of $281 million.

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There are other sources of danger. Early this month, a Vietnamese cargo ship ran around in Albay Gulf, damaging the coral reef along Pulang Buya and compelling the Legazpi City government to demand P4 million in compensation. Divers describe the coral reef as “a total wreck.” Rehabilitation is estimated to take five years.

The threats to Philippine natural resources are not only external but also internal, as in rubbish polluting a tourist attraction. Dutch national Kees Koornstra, a 14-year resident and admirer of Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro, has all but been declared persona non grata by the municipal council for calling attention to the uncollected trash around him. Koornstra, 61, posted a message on Facebook complaining about “Puerto Basura”—the garbage-choked streets off the world-famous White Beach—and accompanied it with incriminating pictures.

Instead of responding to this cry for action and swiftly collecting the garbage, the Puerto Galera municipal council got insulted and issued a resolution making it clear that the man was no longer welcome: “Mr. Kees Koornstra, as a foreigner, has no basis to publish, to be discourteous or to say this kind of insult to the beautiful name of this tourist town.” The council also said Koornstra’s play on the town’s name “will create harmful impression on our hometown, most particularly on our tourism industry and an insult to the dignity of Puerto Galerans.” Talk of misplaced umbrage.

But a continuing affront is the standoff concerning the 50 container vans of household waste that have been sitting in the Manila International Container Port for two years now. The lot was shipped to the Philippines from Canada but the Bureau of Customs noted that the vans contained, not “scrap plastic materials for recycling,” as specified, but soiled diapers and other such household refuse. Despite the Philippine government’s demand (now waning, and which has since been taken up by nongovernment organizations) that Canada take the waste back, that pure and prosperous nation is not moving a finger. This is going on against the backdrop of the Basel Convention, which prohibits wealthy countries from dumping waste material on poor countries, and of which the Philippines and Canada are among the 180 signatories.

The point we’re making is that the Philippines, incomparably wealthy in natural resources and biodiversity, is being attacked from all angles. It is not enough to promote these resources and declare Filipinos “environmentally aware.” Steps have to be taken to actually defend our treasures, whether in terms of standing our ground against poachers and dumpers (foreign or home-grown) or looking deeply at our own conservation efforts and redoubling them. We must begin to show in our actions that we understand just how endangered our natural resources are.

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TAGS: Angel Alcala, Basel Convention, China, corals, Kees Koornstra, Lourdes Yparraguirre, Manila International Container Port, marine ecosystem, natural resources, spratlys
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