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Philippines church leaders support Verde Island Passage summit to safeguard global landmark

Philippines Church leaders support a two-day awareness summit for the Verde Island Passage (VIP) being held from September 28 to 29 at De La Salle-Lipa in Batangas province, hosted by the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED).

CEED is a think-and-do organization that conducts research and advocacy and partners with communities in promoting ecological justice, people-centered development, and transformative energy.

“Our VIP: Charting a Sustainable Future for the Verde Island Passage" is the theme of the summit.

The VIP lies within the Coral Triangle and is the "center" of marine shore fish biodiversity in the world. Dubbed the ‘Amazon of the Oceans’, the VIP houses 300 coral species, underwater rock canyons and reef formations, and roughly 1,736 fish.

It provides sustenance and livelihood for more than 2 million fisherfolk and was also recently awarded the prestigious Hope Spot, which acknowledges both the rich biodiversity and the cultural and economic significance of the VIP.
This Hope Spot and the coastal communities that consider it home are, however, confronted with a myriad of threats, such as the recent oil spill in Oriental Mindoro and the boom of liquefied natural gas and fossil gas operations in Batangas, said CEED.

Stakeholders in the VIP also face various issues, such as the encroachment of commercial vessels in municipal waters. Habitat loss of mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs due to reclamation projects and coastal developments also minimizes livelihood spaces for small-scale fisherfolk communities.
These threats faced by VIP and resident coastal communities and fishermen point to the need for more stringent implementation of laws and policies for their protection and for strengthened multisectoral collaboration.

It is in this context that a summit is being organized on the occasion of this year’s Verde Island Passage Awareness Week to gather the voices of coastal and fisherfolk communities, researchers and academia, faith-based formations, civil society, and government leaders to chart a sustainable future for the Verde Island Passage, said CEED.

Bishop Moises M. Cuevas, Apostolic Vicar of Calapan, said in his statement for the summit, “Care for Our Common Home, Care for the Verde Island Passage”. 

He said, “To care for the earth is a Christian responsibility, as emphasized by Pope Francis in Laudato Si. The Verde island passage, located between the island of Luzon and our province in Mindoro, is one of the most diverse marine regions on earth, and it stands as an ecological treasure of unparalleled importance.”

“But now more than ever, the Verde Island Passage faces numerous threats, including overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change. These threats not only jeopardize marine life in the passage but also the livelihoods of the local communities that depend on its resources. Fishing activities in the Verde Island Passage serve as a vital economic engine for both the local communities that depend on them for their daily livelihoods and the broader national economy.”

“The protection of this biodiversity hotspot is not just an ecological imperative; it is a moral duty that reflects our love for both creation and our fellow human beings. We need to listen to the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth,” said Cuevas.

He cited Pope Francis, who clarified: “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis that is both social and environmental.”

“By safeguarding the Verde Island Passage, we take a significant step towards healing our wounded planet and building a more just and sustainable world for future generations,” said Cuevas.

“Let us act as we work together to ensure that this extraordinary gift of nature is passed down to future generations, for it is in protecting these marine habitats that we truly demonstrate our love for the Earth and all our affected communities,“ he said.

“In doing so, we can heed Pope Francis' call to "care for our common home" and safeguard the Verde Island Passage as a symbol of our commitment to the stewardship of God's creation,” said Cuevas.

Father Edwin Gariguez, Convenor of Protect VIP, said the summit aims to “take stock of perennial and emerging challenges confronted by VIP and its stakeholders, and efforts and initiatives being pursued or proposed for its protection.”

The summit will also “flesh out collective short-, medium-, and long-term plans for the protection of VIP and will unify efforts and initiatives to protect VIP and identify opportunities for collaboration,” he said. - Madonna T. Virola


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