El Nido, Palawan drone shot

Two PH solons issue land, marine environmental concerns amid CoViD-19 pandemic

Two Representatives from the Philippine Congress have recently aired their environmental concerns covering land and marine ecosystems, underscoring the need for society and the government to continue prioritizing the environment, as this could eventually determine how future deadly viruses could develop and spread into human communities.  

On May 7, House Deputy Speaker and Antique Rep. Loren Legarda renewed her call for authorities and citizens to help in the sustainable management and conservation of marine life and resources to protect them from unsustainable human activities.

“We rely so much on our oceans for our food, livelihood, and other daily needs, but we have been neglecting our ocean’s health. Plastic pollution, overfishing, waste dumping, oil spills, dynamite fishing, and other destructive human practices are killing the life in our oceans. I once again urge our authorities to enforce our laws to save our marine biodiversity, ecosystems, and habitats from further destruction,” Legarda said.

Legarda, who authored the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, said that proper waste management practices, including the segregation of garbage at source and segregated transportation, processing, treatment, and proper disposal of solid waste, should be implemented by all local governments and households to prevent trash from going into our seas.

She also mentioned that she also filed House Bill No. 635, which seeks to regulate the manufacturing, importation, and use of single-use plastic products, as well as provide penalties, levies, and incentives for industries, business enterprises, and consumers.

Legarda also said that this year’s theme for Ocean’s Month is “Para sa Tao (For the People): Protected Areas for a Protected Future,” which aims to provide deeper appreciation and understanding on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and their environmental, social, and cultural benefits to the people.

May has been designated as the Month of the Ocean.

A protected area is defined as “portions of land and/or water set aside by reason of their unique physical and biological significance, managed to enhance biological diversity and protected against destructive human exploitation.” Of the 244 protected areas in the Philippines, 35 are MPAs.

Legarda is the principal author of Republic Act (RA) 11038 or the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 2018 (ENIPAS).

Earlier, on March 29, Rep. Michael Defensor (Anakalusugan) stressed that the CoViD-19 pandemic has underscored the need for government to forcefully put in check the human exploitation of wildlife to prevent the possible transfer of zoonotic coronaviruses to people.

“We have a 19-year-old law that operates not just to safeguard our ecosystems, but also to shield us from potentially destructive diseases that may be transmitted to communities on account of the rampant human abuse of wildlife,” Defensor, one-time Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, said.

Defensor was referring to the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Law of 2001, or RA 9147.

“There are several known coronaviruses circulating in wildlife that have not yet infected humans,” Defensor, House health committee vice chairperson, warned.

“Whether the new coronavirus that causes CoViD-19 came from a bat, a pangolin, or a civet cat, we really have to rigorously enforce the law that prohibits and criminalizes the hunting, collection, possession and transport of wildlife or their by-products and derivatives,” Defensor said.

“Creatures that thrive in the wild are harmless by themselves,” Defensor said.

But the lawmaker also warned that rapid deforestation and urbanization could put wildlife in closer contact with people and more vulnerable to human misuse in the years ahead.

A world-renowned virologist, Dr. Danielle Anderson, recently expressed “90% confidence” that the new coronavirus that has so far infected more than 3.8 million people and killed nearly 300,000 worldwide originated from a bat.

Anderson then raised the probability that somebody could have butchered an infected bat at an animal market in China’s Wuhan City, and then contaminated his mouth or nose with the bat’s blood or urine.

The Australian virologist succeeded in isolating the purest form of CoViD-19 at a high-security laboratory in Singapore.

Defensor urged the House committee on natural resources to look into the performance of the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Law.

“We have to build up compliance with the law through harsh enforcement,” Defensor said.

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of zoonotic viruses, meaning they are spread between animals and people.

They cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more serious diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

Previous investigations found that SARS-CoV was conveyed from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans.