06 February 2010

Stakeholders sign commitment to protect Subic Bay

Government agencies, private organizations and local stakeholders have signed a “Declaration of Commitment” to protect Subic Bay after the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) urged a joint conservation effort involving various sectors of the community here.

The declaration was signed as an initial undertaking that resulted from the recent Subic Bay Water Summit, a two-day conference held at the Subic Bay Exhibition and Convention Center (SBECC) where multi-sector representatives discussed strategies for the conservation of local water resources and the protection of marine ecosystems, which could be applied to Subic Bay.

The SBMA, through its Ecology Center, spearheaded the summit to help arrest the growing degradation of Subic Bay, which is considered as the economic lifeblood of the Subic free port and the nearby communities, said SBMA administrator Armand Arreza.

According to the declaration, the conservation of marine resources and the protection of rivers and coastal areas in Olongapo, Zambales and Bataan, “are indispensable to the continued social and economic well-being of those who live near or otherwise depend on the Bay, as well as to the sustainability of the life itself of the Bay.”

It also noted that pollution is the most serious threat to the water quality of Subic Bay. While the bay is naturally endowed with a deep harbor and a diverse yet fragile ecosystem, it is “now being endangered by various human and development activities in the uplands, the surrounding communities and within the coastal areas,” the declaration stated.

With this, the summit participants resolved “to renew and reinforce our efforts toward the sustainable development and management of our local water resources in a manner that is technically and legally feasible, fundable and effective.”

During the summit, Dr. Hoanh Hoang Nguyen, a soil and water specialist from Vietnam, identified at least 42 watersheds in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, of which 27 are drained by rivers directly into Subic Bay.

There is therefore “a need to control or reduce the sources of the pollutions that drain into the bay and the conversion of forestlands into cultivated lands or grasslands by informal settlers,” Nguyen urged in his presentation entitle “Total Catchment Approach to Land and Water Use Planning.”

Nguyen added that six land and water use issues have to be addressed immediately: conversion of forest land into dwelling, unregulated use of pesticides and fertilizers, annual grassland burning, livelihood from natural resources, fishponds and fish cages, and commercial and industrial activities inside core protection areas.

On the same occasion, Marikina City mayor Maria Lourdes Fernando shared her community’s experiences on how residents made their city a “Little Singapore.

Tackling the topic “Sustainable City Planning: Principles and Practices,” Fernando said that a lot of people are now taking the environment seriously. “Even the squatters along the Marikina river understood and volunteered to relocate to an area provided by the government,” she said.

Fernando said that after the clearing operation, the city developed the riverside areas into picnic and leisure parks. “The dying river is now regularly cleaned. And not long from now, we will put fingerlings into the river to return its life,” Fernando added.

Arreza said the SBMA organized the water summit to come up with a common action plan to effectively protect the Subic Bay and the valued water resources in the locality.

The summit also provided a venue for the participants to identify problems, hear and discuss recommendations from the experts, and learn from the experience of leaders in resource protection and conservation.

Among those who signed the declaration of commitment were Olongapo City mayor James Gordon, Jr.; former Zambales vice governor Saturnino Bactad, who represented Zambales Gov. Amor Deloso; Pastolan Aeta village chieftain Conrado Frenilla; and Restituto del Rosario, a Gawad-Saka national awardee from Morong, Bataan.

Representatives from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, 3rd Regional PNP Maritime Office, Philippine Coast Guard, Greater Subic Bay Tourism Bureau, Subic Bay Freeport Chamber of Commerce, Subic Bay Resorts Association, and Subic Water and Sewerage Co., Inc. also attended the summit. (SBMA Corporate Communications)