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Celebrating our natural assets with positive actions

This month of September, we are celebrating two of our most important natural assets or capital—our marine biodiversity arising from our being a MAN (Maritime and Archipelagic Nation that hosts the “center of the center” of marine biodiversity in the world) and having about 60 to 80 species of bamboo, with more than 20 as part of our natural assets. Both can help make us a prosperous and stronger MAN despite the fast-developing crisis that has started to wreak havoc worldwide.

In September 2017, President Duterte declared September as “MANA Mo,” or MAN Awareness Month through Presidential Proclamation No. 316. At that time, few Filipinos were aware of the fact that we are a MAN. After four years, that awareness must have somehow increased. But sadly, many of us have not yet learned to value our being a MAN, with biodiverse marine assets in our water bodies that constitute four-fifths of our territories.

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Then, in November 2019, the House of Representatives passed House Resolution No. 197, declaring September as the Philippine Bamboo Month. Perhaps, the aim was to join the worldwide celebration of bamboo this month because Sept. 18 was officially established in 2009 as The World Bamboo Day at the 8th World Bamboo Congress in Bangkok.

Those of us who have recognized the value of our marine biodiversity, bamboo and our other natural assets feel blessed to have more natural capital to celebrate although in only one out of 12 months of a year!

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But we must celebrate them with positive actions as our natural capital must be valued, accounted for and sustainably used, if needed, to help us in our journey toward what I refer to as RICH (Resilient, Inclusive, Climate-smart, Healthy) sustainable development.

The Pencas (Philippine Ecosystem and Natural Capital Accounting System) bill filed by House Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda is a legislative measure to mandate such actions. We must support its early passage as a law. Our Casa (Climate Action and Sustainability Alliance), which grew out of the sustainable development committee of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), invites all to watch the first (https://youtu.be/voGr3psxqfI) and succeeding three episodes in the CAS4U channel in YouTube to understand ecosystem and natural capital accounting.

The Pencas bill requires a lot of work that we can do in phases. But some issues like the ones below need action now.

Plastics pollution:

A national shame

Dr. Deo Florence Onda of the UP Marine Science Institute (UP MSI), the first Filipino to reach the third deepest part on earth, the Emden Deep in the Philippine Trench, reported in the webinar hosted by the Maritime and Ocean Affairs Office of the Department of Foreign Affairs what he saw there in an expedition held last March—plastics pollution everywhere! Most of the plastics (e.g., plastic wraps, product labels, and other packaging materials) are related to the economic activities around the area.

Bad behavior in carelessly handling plastics, which are truly useful, has reached even the deepest part of our country! So what we have is a behavioral crisis. We challenge both the producers of plastic materials and their representative end-users to work together to take concrete actions to address this plastics pollution issue.

Protecting marine resources

The good news is that scientists like Dr. Onda, other faculty members in the UP MSI headed by Dr. Laura David, and other scientists are working hard to know more about our biodiverse marine assets and protect them.

The Philippine Navy started to help during my term in the Navy’s board of advisers by giving them access to BRP Gregorio Velasquez, which has research capability. Fortunately, UP MSI has now started to build its own marine research fleet. But continuing enhancement of our MAN’s research capabilities is needed to understand the natural capital that we have in our vast water bodies.

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Special Marine Mammals

Several nongovernmental organizations are focusing their efforts to know more and protect our large marine mammals. One of them, Balyena.org, conducts research on whales and dolphins. Dr. Jo Marie Acebes leads this group that needs support to properly value and account for marine mammals’ role in climate change mitigation because they have carbon sequestration abilities. They need help to conduct more marine mammal scientific research and to do conservation of these species and their natural habitats.

Developing human capital

Those who are leading research to understand and protect our natural marine capital are mostly scientists and technologists. We need more of them. We must allocate more resources on science and technology education and promotion. But we also need professionals from other fields, such as law and accounting, to collaborate with them.

Appreciating bamboo

The other topic of our celebration this month, bamboo, can grow up to over 30 meters tall. In addition to its many uses, bamboo has high ability to sequester carbon and withstand adverse weather conditions.

We need funds to develop plantations with bamboo and complementary tree and plant species to avoid problems arising from monoculture. We need lands for such plantations and for processing facilities to produce bamboo for food, construction, and power generation—the three topmost promising possibilities for us.

For lands, we hope to see efficient approval systems with integrity in both the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples, which have authority over idle public lands and Indigenous Peoples’ lands, respectively.

Bamboo shoots used to be the poor man’s food. We are now trying to upgrade their value by developing a book of gourmet recipes with bamboo shoots.

Those who regard bamboo as undesirable weed should read banker-cum-gardener Flor Tarriela’s latest book on “Weedibles and Weedicinals.” Marine biodiversity and bamboo are but some of our natural assets that we must celebrate with positive actions as we, a MAN, take our journey toward full recovery and RICH sustainability. INQ

The author, a Life Member of MAP, is former Chair of the MAP Sustainable Development (SD) Committee. She is Convenor-Chair of Climate Action & Sustainability Alliance (CASA) and serves as Board Director of organizations on climate change, SD, science and technology, education and communication.

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