206 New Caves Found In PH
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has classified an additional 206 caves, bringing to 364 the total number of caverns considered as part of the nation’s natural wealth and therefore require sustainable management and conservation.
The classification, according to DENR Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje, was pursuant to Republic Act No. 9072, or the National Caves and Cave Resources Management and Protection Act, which mandates the agency to formulate, develop and implement a national program to conserve, protect and manage caves and cave resources.
“Caves are non-renewable resources with unique, natural features that offer significant scientific, educational, economic and aesthetic value and form part of our historical and cultural heritage,” Paje pointed out.
He added: “Caves can also be used for our enjoyment, but only to a certain extent. Classifying caves accordingly will thus help define which human activities are allowed within these areas so that we can preserve them in their pristine state, or improve them if necessary.”
Under DENR Memorandum Circular 2014-03, the newly classified caves are found in 11 regions, with Region 2 having the most number of caves at 101, followed by Region 11 with 30 caves.
Among the provinces, Cagayan has the most number of caves with 83, while Davao del Norte was far second with 18 caves.
Caves are classified into three categories or classes. “Class I” caves are characterized with delicate and fragile geological formations, may be habitats of threatened species, provide archaeological values and possess extremely hazardous conditions. As such, activities allowed in these caves are limited to mapping, photography, educational and scientific purposes.
The DENR circular has listed 21 Class I caves, including the Masi Cave in Adams, Ilocos Norte, the Pagulayan Cave within the Peñablanca Protected Landscape in Cagayan, and the Santol Cave in the Island Garden City of Samal in Davao del Norte.
“Class II” caves have sensitive geologic values or high quality ecosystems, as well as portions with hazardous conditions. As such, they may be closed seasonally or permanently, or may be open only to experienced cavers or guided educational tours. The famous Sohoton Cave in Samar Island Natural Park is one of 154 Class II caves identified in the circular.
“Class III” caves are safe for inexperienced yet guide-accompanied visitors, as these do not contain known threatened species or geological or historical values. These caves may also be utilized when appropriate for economic purposes such as extraction of guano (bat waste) and collection of edible bird nests.
There are 30 such caves under the new list, among them the Aglipay Cave 5 in the Quirino Protected Landscape, and the Mat-i Cave 2 in Baganga, Davao Oriental.
Classification of caves is continuously being undertaken by the DENR. The new list, however, contains 86 caves, mostly located in Cagayan province, assessed and classified by the National Museum for their archaeological or historical value, and 15 in Palawan province by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.
Upon classification, the DENR field offices oversee the preparation of a management plan on related ecotourism, scientific, educational and economic activities.
The approved plan is implemented by the Protected Area Management Board for caves within protected areas (PAs), or in coordination with the concerned local government unit and land owner for those outside PAs.
Green Jobs For Filipinos
Senator Loren Legarda today stressed on the importance of promoting green skills and green jobs, stating that it would provide employment opportunities and boost climate change adaptation efforts in the country.
Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committees on Environment and Natural Resources and on Climate Change, noted that there are already 3.5 million green jobs worldwide and the Philippines has the potential to generate thousands of green jobs, especially if there are more renewable energy investments in the country.
“We take note of the government’s continuing efforts to generate more jobs for our growing population. But despite the various programs to address unemployment, we still need to do more. We can encourage our citizens to train in green skills such as management in agriculture, forestry, horticulture, environmental information technology and other careers that contribute to environmental preservation,” she explained.
“We should also strengthen efforts to encourage more renewable energy investments in the country because this industry can provide thousands of jobs for our people. According to Greenpeace, a geothermal company in the country was able to employ 2,582 individuals for a 1,189-MW plant and that a 10-megawatt solar power plant can provide jobs for 1,000 people for six months during the period of construction and 100 permanent positions for its operation and maintenance,” she added.
The Senator, citing additional data from Greenpeace, said that the availability of green jobs in other nations and regions is rapidly increasing. In Europe, there are already about 650,000 green jobs created; more than 175,000 are employed in the United States’ wind and solar industries; and China has an estimated one million green jobs.
“In generating green jobs, we also need to actively promote the importance of renewable energy projects and encourage Filipinos to consider employment in green industries which provide healthier working environment,” said Legarda.
“Our path should be towards sustainable and resilient development where progress is measured not only through material wealth, but also and more importantly, through the happiness, safety and well-being of our citizens,” Legarda concluded.
PAL Saves Sharks
By Nicole Ann M. Aguila
All people might not know how important sharks are on our planet, thus raising awareness is the key to finally educate the whole world reasons why we must protect them.
Who would have thought that an airline company will put an effort to save marine life? Yes, Philippine Airlines or PAL just announced the ban of shipping of sharks’ fins.
This is after Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Philippine Animal Welfare Society, Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines Earth Island Institute – Philippines and other concerned organization started a petition that protests against their freight policy.
“The announcement of PAL is also a victory for all sharks species who are brutally murdered for their fins,” said Anna Oposa, cofounder of Save Philippine Seas and founder of the Shark Shelter Project in Malapascua Island.
The airline was previously reported tohave shipped 136 x 50 kg bags accumulating 6,800 kg of dried shark fins at a Hong Kong storeroom run by Global Marine.
Shark fins are hailed as an important ingredient on soups and traditional cures in China. But animal welfare groups toughly disagree with the trade, which usually comprises of taking only the fins and leaving the main body dead in the ocean.
“Sharks help in maintaining the balance of the marine ecosystem. Their dwindling numbers due to the growing demand for shark’s fin soup and other shark products, already upset the problematic status of our seas and oceans,” said Greenpeace Philippines oceans campaigner Vince Cinches.
“We are asking everyone to remain vigilant and make sure that PAL will honor its commitment and advise other airlines to adopt a similar shark ban to help save our marine ecosystem,” he said.
Shark finning is the practice of slicing off the shark’s fins while the shark is still alive and throwing the rest of its body back into the ocean where it can take days to die what must be an agonizing death.
Globally, tens of millions of sharks are slaughtered every year to satisfy the demand for shark fin soup; at least 8,000 tonnes of shark fins are shipped to restaurants around the world. Fishermen report that sharks are getting smaller because they are not being given time to mature.
Sharks are a critical component in an ecosystem that provides 1/3 of our world with food. The ocean produces more oxygen than all the rainforests combined, removes half of the atmosphere’s manmade carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas), and controls our planet’s temperature and weather.
Sharks play a vital role at the top of the food chain by maintaining balance in the oceans. Destroying shark populations could destroy our oceans and our life support system.
(Ms. Aguila is currently an intern for OpinYon. She is an incoming fourth year student in AB Communication Arts in Malayan College in Cabuyao, Laguna.)
Cacao Industry Bids For ‘Sweet Success’
The rebirth of a Philippine world-class product
By Allysa Faye Greganda
By 2020, the world’s need for cacao beans is projected to increase by 30%, yet the country’s production has yet to meet the demand. If our cacao industry can do so, then there is hope for the Philippine agricultural sector.
While Filipinos crave for imported chocolates, better think again: first-rate quality cocoa can be grownin your backyard. It is the same reason why the Department of Agriculture keeps an eye on this delectable opportunity for the country’s agri-production.
This month, DA just handed an initial P14M for cacaoagri-business zones (CABZs) in Davao City.
Being endowed with such perfect soil composition and sun temperature, the Philippine’s cacao industry is a potential big exporter—only if more farmers would invest into it.
The truth is, cacao seeds do not grow in thewestern countries known to produce these mouth-watering chocolates, including Japan. Raising cacao trees haveclimatic requirements.
Rainfall should range from 1250 to 3000 mm per annum while 1500-2000 mm during dry season of not more than 3 months. Maximum temperature is 32°C and the minimum is 18°C. Altitude of the area must lie between 300-1200 meters above sea level.
Cacao thrives best in areas with evenly distributed rainfall throughout the year. As of now, cacao plantations can be found in the areas of Mindanao specially Davao and CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) in Luzon.
The cacao industry has never grown into its full potential. Moreover, we even import 20,000 metric tons of cocoa beans from Africa last 2008 up to this date, costing $42 million a year.
During 1980s, Philippines has shared 20% of the world’s need for cocoa. The industry declinedaltogether with the rise of CARP.
Discovering these lost chances, the DA and Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) made partnerships with different companies to help boost cacao farming in the country.
BAR also collaborated with Cocoaphil for the Sustainable Cacao Program. The target now is to be able to produce 100,000 metric tons by 2020 from our usual production of 25,000 metric tons yearly.
As for the initial funding, P1.75 million has been allotted for the distribution of seedlings.
P2.5 million goes for production equipment’s and machinery. Post-harvest facilities and other infrastructure costs P6.22 million, marketing development services amounts to P200,000, while P615,000 budget allotted in training for new and current cacao industry players.
Made in the Philippines
“Dry like a full bodied well-aged red wine,” these were the words Shawn Askinosie of the world’s famous Zingerman’s Deli said to describe the Philippine Tablea (chocolate).
So far, there had been few who attempts in making it into the exporting world—all by themselves. Rob Crisostomo started as a simple farmer then eventually founded the Seed Core Enterprises in Davao.
He now exports container load of Philippine cacao to Barry Callebaut, the world’s largest supplier of high quality chocolate and cacao products. It just proves that cacao made in the Philippines is globally competitive.
This will not only give glory to the country but also provide livelihood for many families.
The secret of Philippine cacao beans is in how our farmers carefully process the seedlings from planting, harvesting and even in quality control phase. Filipino women are the usual laborers in cacao plantations. DA said that this type of farming is gender-sensitive, that is why women are the preferred laborers.
As of now, there are 20,000 hectares of cacao trees in Davao, and 70% of the annual production of the crop come from the same province. The industry has helped 16,000 farmers and 340 cooperatives, according to Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines.
Indeed, this industry has becoming a good source of livelihood for most Filipinos in the South.
It is a wise decision for DA to finally revive the cacao industry. This can even lift the country into poverty. We should focus more into utilizing our lands because the Philippines’climate and environment has the perfect set up for growing such crops.
Our true wealth is our agriculture because not all countries are capable of producing crops such as cacao beans. Our government has to realize that prosperity in our country does not merely relyon just ICT, business empires and technology.
It will be beneficial for the country’s economy if the budget allocation for this industry is increased.
(Ms. Greganda is a graduating student of AB Communication in the University of Perpetual Help System Laguna. She is currently working in OpinYon as an intern. She also loves sweets, including chocolate.)
Ties That Bind
Ex-Im Bank provides a variety of financing mechanisms, including working-capital guarantees, export-credit insurance and financing to help foreign buyers purchase U.S. goods and services.
In what could be a landmark deal, the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) has signed a US$1 billion energy-based memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Philippines’ Department of Energy (DOE).
Specifically, the MOU targets renewable-energy and liquefied natural gas projects in hopes of upgrading and expanding the Philippine energy supply as part of US-Philippines bilateral cooperation.
“The arrangement is a win-win for both our nations and evidences our deep ties and cooperation on numerous economic fronts,” Ex-Im Bank Chairman and President Fred P. Hochberg said in a statement released by the US embassy in Manila.
The MOU was signed recently in Washington, DC by Ex-Im Bank board director Patricia Loui and DOE undersecretary Raul B. Aguilos.
Under the MOU, Ex-Im Bank and the DOE will exchange information with an eye to matching development needs in the Philippines with innovative goods and services offered by American exporters.
Since 1993, Ex-Im Bank provided US$1.3 billion in energy-sector finance to the Philippines.
“We aim to outdo ourselves and target another billion with this memorandum of understanding,” Loui said.
“Our expertise can contribute both to the renovation of current energy-production facilities and the construction of new ones,” she added.
In 1994, Ex-Im Bank financed the first project-finance transactions in the Philippines for geothermal energy – the Cebu geothermal, US$170 million; and the Mahanagdong geothermal project, also in Cebu, US$211 million.
Ex-Im Bank is an independent federal agency that creates and maintains U.S. jobs by filling gaps in private export financing at no cost to American taxpayers.
The Bank provides a variety of financing mechanisms, including working-capital guarantees, export-credit insurance and financing to help foreign buyers purchase U.S. goods and services.
In the past fiscal year alone, Ex-Im Bank earned for U.S. taxpayers more than US$1 billion above the cost of operations.
In FY 2013, Ex-Im Bank approved more than US$27 billion in total authorizations to support an estimated $37.4 billion in U.S. export sales and approximately 205,000 American jobs in communities across the country.
This year, the Bank approved a record 3,413 transactions– or 89 percent–for small-businesses.
The Ex-Im DOE deal is in line with the U.S.-Philippines Partnership for Growth (PPG), program.
The highly innovative program, which resulted from US President Obama’s September 2010 policy directive on global development, is a high-level initiative focused on economic growth in countries committed to good governance.
In the Philippines, the PPG aligns with policy reform areas outlined by President Aquino in the Philippine Development Plan.
Under the plan, the US has committed to placing the Philippines on a path to sustained and more inclusive economic growth, and elevating it to the ranks of other high-performing emerging economies.
As envisioned, the US-backed PPG takes a comprehensive approach to development that reaches beyond traditional foreign assistance.
It also aims to address the most significant constraints to growth and to stimulate inclusive economic expansion. A joint analysis identified governance and inability to capture revenue as the top constraints to growth in the Philippines.
The PPG leverages the resources and tools of partners, especially the private sector, to increase the effectiveness of policies and institutions necessary for development.
USAID and Millennium Challenge Corporation provides more than US$800 million funding over five years to support PPG projects.
The U.S.-Philippines five-year Joint Country Action Plan prioritized the creation of a more transparent, predictable, and consistent legal and regulatory regime.
Similarly, it seeks to foster a more open and competitive business environment, strengthen the rule of law and support fiscal stability through better revenue and expenditure management.
The U.S. government has committed to a sustained inter-agency engagement in support of the PPG’s goal and objectives.
Since2011, the Philippine government has made significant progress in implementing policy and institutional reforms.
It has also achieved remarkable improvements in economic growth, competitiveness, tax revenues, and sovereign debt ranking to ensure that the growth generated is inclusive and sustainable.
Stop Exploitation Of Marine Life, Says Senator
AS the world celebrated Earth Day last April 22, Senator Loren Legarda renewed her call to protect marine biodiversity and preserve the country’s ecosystems.
Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, said that the country’s natural resources, especially those within our seas, are crucial to the survival of Filipinos, especially that the Philippines is an archipelago.
“We are fortunate to have been blessed with abundant natural resources. In fact, we are one of the 17 megadiverse countries, home to majority of Earth’s species. Unfortunately, we are also one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots, with a large number of species that are endangered or threatened with extinction,” she lamented.
“The Philippines also has one of the world’s richest marine ecosystems, characterized by extensive coral reefs, sea-grass beds and dense mangroves. But despite this richness in marine resources, about 3.9 million families still experienced hunger in the last quarter of 2013 and many of those living in coastal communities remain poor with 4 of 10 coastal residents living under poverty line,” she added.
“We must all work, in our own and simple yet big and determined steps, to help resuscitate our ailing environment. Let us turn away from extractive and consumptive way of living and strive to make a positive impact on our natural resources—may it be by saving on fuel, energy and water consumption, recycling, proper solid waste management or growing trees,” Legarda said.
“We must put an end to the exploitation and exportation of corals as well as the fishing and taking of any rare, threatened and endangered species. Our fishermen should stop the use of fine mesh net, explosives and other poisonous substance in our seas,” she added.
Last April 22, the Senator launched a video documentary on Philippine marine biodiversity to raise awareness on the current condition of the country’s marine life and underwater resources.
The project is a collaboration with award-winning director Brillante Mendoza, in partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Philippine Information Agency.
The documentary features marine videos from underwater videographer Robert “Bobbit” Suntay and his fellow videographers Jan Acosta, Boogs Rosales and Wowie Wong from the Network of Underwater Digital Imagers (NUDI).
“We celebrate Earth Day every year on April 22 and we are reminded to nurture our planet which abundantly provides us with the resources we need to survive. We are encouraged to strengthen our commitment to save the Earth and contribute to the sustainability of our nation,” Legarda said, in concluding her speech.
The senator also warned that neglecting our marine resources can result to hunger and poverty for millions of Filipinos. “Its (marine ecosystem) destruction affects the livelihood of coastal communities, our food supply, our tourism and our economy.”
Building Green: An LGU Imperative
[Speech by Sen. Loren Legarda’s Speech
Forum on Green Building Initiative
23 April 2014 – Dusit Thani Hotel, Makati ]
The future communities in the Philippines will vastly differ from the ones we live in today. As we witness the 21st century unfold, our nation faces a new set of technological, socioeconomic and global challenges that are more complex than any of us have ever experienced in our shared history. They dramatically alter the way we live in our communities, and at stake is the quality of life, not only of ours, but of our progeny.
It is the responsibility of the government, especially local government units, to understand these challenges and to take proactive measures that will optimize our nation’s future — to plan, build and support sustainable communities.
The U.N. World Commission on Environment and Development described sustainability as a development that ‘meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ A sustainable community is an end goal: the government and the people share a common vision, engage each other in the intricacies, and together bring it to fruition.
The first step towards building a sustainable community is to correct one of the biggest misconceptions about the environment—that natural resources are infinite. Clearly, Earth’s resources are not limitless. We are now witnessing the rapid decline of our forest cover, water supply, air quality and the demise of our biodiversity.
In order to build a sustainable society, it cannot be business as usual. We need to stop consuming more than we need and start making sacrifices, including cuts in our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The Asian Development Bank’s Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2012 noted that the increase in carbon dioxide emissions could rise to 10.2 metric tons per capita by 2050 if interventions to reverse the trend are not introduced.
A cursory look now proves that the 4-degree Celsius world, which may have seemed impossible 20 years ago, is not far off today.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report suggested that a 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius increase in global mean temperatures from pre-industrial levels threatens extinction of 30 percent of all species.
Climate change, according to reports, threatens food security as crop yields are estimated to decline by 19 percent in Asia towards the end of the century. Rice yield in the Philippines is projected to decline by 75 percent. A 4-degree scenario doubles these impacts.
A hotter global temperature will result in damaging sea levels, extreme weather and food insecurity. Flood, droughts and hunger are already issues we are dealing with today. The more frequent and stronger storms we are experiencing have been affecting our economic development as well.
For instance, losses due to Typhoon Yolanda are estimated at 571 billion pesos, which represents close to five percent of the Philippines’ annual GDP. Meanwhile, losses due to typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009 were equivalent to 2.7% of the country’s GDP.
Indeed, climate change has changed the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather and climate events.
What has brought about the state we are in today?
Key findings of the IPCC 2012 Special Report on Extreme Events revealed that climate change is “unequivocal” and that there is 95 percent likelihood that human activity is the cause of global warming.
Human activity released 545 gigatons of carbon dioxide—the main greenhouse gas from 1750 to 2011.
The Philippines is a minor emitter of GHG. But even as we are taking steps to demand the world’s biggest polluters to reduce their carbon usage for the sake of the planet, we cannot just wait for other parties to turn their commitment into action.
We need to take care of our own backyard so to speak, and in this case we need to make that first step in controlling the levels of anthropogenic pollution. We can cut our carbon emissions, improve our environment and create sustainable communities if we build green.
This is why we are all here today in a triumphant mood. The Climate Change Commission Resolution No. 5, which has been endorsed by President Benigno Aquino, is an important piece in that blueprint towards creating a more sustainable and liveable nation.
When we build green we help reduce our global carbon footprint, we cut down costs and we improve our citizens’ overall way of life. The implementation of the National Climate Change Action Plan by LGUs makes sure that building green not only looks good on paper but also for the planet.
We must also promote community resilience. LGUs could prioritize resilience as part of their political and sustainable development agenda and make reducing disaster risk their legacy opportunity. Paying attention to protection will improve environmental, social and economic conditions, including combating the future variables of climate change. It will also make the communities more prosperous and secure than before. Initiatives could include making schools, hospitals, and other critical public infrastructure resilient against disasters.
As a fundamental development strategy, building resilience would help our government sustain the country’s socio-economic gains, and make a significant difference in poverty reduction.
LGUs are responsible for building sustainable societies where building green will be a way of life. Thus, I urge our LGUs to support this with passion and commitment. I hope that there will be no extensive bureaucratic entanglements because there is no time to lose.
I congratulate the Philippine Green Building Initiative, International Finance Corporation and Climate Change Commission for this initiative and I look forward to the success of this program so that finally all buildings and structures will be built with safety and resilience as the primary foundations. Thank you.
Ph Fastest Rice Producer In Asia
Despite strong typhoons that ravaged agricultural lands last year, Department of Agriculture Secretary Alcala told about 1,500 farmers that they had produced 18.44 million metric tons of rice, enlisting the Philippines as the fastest growing rice production country in Asia.
Alcala lauded the Central Luzon farmers for helping achieve the highest rice harvest in the Philippine history during the Farmers` Lakbay Palay hosted by the Philippine Rice Research Institute in Science City of Muñoz, Nueva Ecija, April 1-4.
The production also made the country 97-percent rice self-sufficient in 2013. Although three-percent short of the 100 percent target, the country, however, registered a 16-percent increase within three years. The country was only 81-percent rice self-sufficient in 2010.
With the rice sector`s performance last year, the agriculture secretary discouraged the public from focusing on the deficit in the 100-percent rice self-sufficiency target.
“We have tried hard. Nawa`y [mapahalagan] natin, lalo na sa mga nasa Manila, ang pagpupunyagi nating mga magsasaka. Hindi ho tayo titigil sa 97 percent. Magpupursige pa din tayo para ang isasaing ni Juan dela Cruz, dito ipupunla, dito itatanim, dito aanihin (May we, especially the city dwellers, value the efforts of the farmers. We’ll not stop at 97 percent. We’ll work harder so that the rice that we’ll serve on our table will be planted and harvested in the country),” Alcala said.
Alcala, who also unveiled the latest rice technologies, urged the farmers to be receptive of new farming practices as this may help them reduce production cost and make the price of rice more competitive in the market.
“We can`t solve problems such as rice smuggling in an instant. We still have a long way to go to stop rice smuggling. As long as our production cost is high, rice smuggling will always be around,” he said in Filipino.
He said that rice smuggling persists in the country because domestic rice prices are uncompetitive to Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam.“Production cost in the Philippines is [about P11 a kilo] while in Vietnam, it`s around P6,” he said.
Alcala said that if farmers can peg production cost even at P8, rice smuggling will be minimized.At present, PhilRice is on its second season of implementing Palayabangan: 10-5 challenge, a nationwide farming competition that aims to produce 10 tons/ha yield at only P5 input cost per kilogram of palay.
Russian City Sees Fireball In The Sky
Residents of Murmansk, a city in Northern Russia, reported seeing a huge fireball tearing through the night-sky. The event occurred at 2.10am local time Saturday and was caught by several dashboard cameras, according to Russia Today. The authenticity of the videos hasn’t been confirmed yet.
The bright object was seen just days before the annual Lyrid meteor, which is expected to peak April 21 and 22, according to The International Business Times.Meteors, the bright flashes of light streaking across the sky, are fairly common. However, several of these meteors are never observed as they occur during the day or at remote places on Earth.
A meteor making it to the earth’s surface is a very rare event. About 99.99 percent of meteors completely disintegrate before reaching the surface, according to The American Meteor Society.Last year, a large rock landed near Chelyabinsk in Russia. The meteorite explosion injured over 1,000 people. The radiation caused skin and retinal injuries in several people.The Chelyabinsk explosion was the largest meteorite explosion in the world since 1908, according to IBT.
Several studies have been conducted on the Chelyabinsk meteorite. Russian Academy of Sciences researchers have reported that the rock that hit Russia last February exploded with an energy of nearly 500 kilotonnes of TNT, according to the Guardian.Astronomical Institute, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic researchers published a paper November, 2013. The study reported that the Chelyabinsk meteorite might have been a part of the asteroid 86039.
The Rise of a New Subic
Prostitution, which has gained notoriety at the height of US military presence in Subic and Clark, is likely to rise anew as the presence of American servicemen would serve as a magnet for the resurgence of girlie bars and other night spots.
MANILA – Some 600 kms southwest of Manila, workers are building a 21-km access road linking mainland Luzon to Oyster Bay in Palawan province facing the internationally disputed west Philippine sea.
Though Palawan is a major tourist destination, the project is not meant to woo more visitors, but to transform the bay into what officials described as a “mini Subic.”
Like Subic, once the site of the United States’ biggest military facility in the Far East, the scenic cove boasts a deep natural harbor, capable of hosting large vessels, including warships.
The groundwork has already cost the government some 500 million pesos and it is expected to rise as more facilities such as piers, dry-docks and ship repair yards are to be built. Construction of the new naval port, part of the military’s modernization drive, is slated to be completed by 2016 when President Aquino’s six-year term ends.
Subic: Too crowded
Aquino has launched a US$1.8-billion military modernization program and revived plans to build new air and naval bases at Subic Bay. The budget excludes the annual defense aid of the US.
Use of the cove as a port loomed as the Philippines is beefing up its external defense capability in the face of unabated tensions with China over conflicting territorial claims.
Moreover, the Philippines is also readying itself to host an expected surge in the number of American security forces to be redeployed under the US’s pivot policy.
Manila’s zeroing in on Oyster Bay as an alternative naval port has loomed as Subic has become “too crowded” as more and more American battleships drop anchors at its piers.
Officials say that since last January, the number of visiting US battleships and other types of vessel at Subic has risen from 50 to nearly 90 and more are expected to make port calls as Manila and Washington ramp up their defense ties.
Bilateral talks had been going on, both in Manila and Washington, for expanded defense cooperation in line with their 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and the 2001 Visiting Forces Agreement.
Just recently the Philippines opened tenders for brand-new frigates worth 18 billion pesos (US$4439 million).
Where to park?
To be armed with missiles and torpedoes, both will reinforce the two second-hand warships the US had earlier turned over to the Philippines now patrolling the west Philippine Sea.
Presided over by the defense department, the bidding has drawn interest of 11 prospective suppliers from Italy, France, South Korea and India.The Philippines is also buying five patrol boats from France for about 90 million Euros ($116 million) and some multi-role vessels from South Korea.
They will be in addition to ten state-of-the-art patrol vessels, each weighing 1,000 tons, Japan has committed to bolster the Philippines’ maritime capability.In addition, the Philippines is keen in buying a submarine to enable its naval forces to patrol the country’s maritime territory undetected — if funds permit.
“When you have a submarine, we will be able to track those violating our maritime laws without them noticing us,” Philippine Navy spokesman Lt. Rommel Rodriguez said in a statement.
Where to park the new naval assets has become a problem as Subic‘s maritime traffic has increased over the past months.
The rise of Oyster Bay as a new naval port is also likely spark tensions with China which has laid claims to the west Philippine Sea.
Last year, U.S. and Philippine commandos staged a mock amphibious assault near Oyster Bay as part of their annual military exercises. Oyster Bay is about 160 km (100 miles) from the west Philippine Sea where Chinese naval vessels patrol.
Environmentalists, however, opposed the rise of a naval port in mangrove-fringed Oyster Bay, fearing pollution and destruction of its marine sanctuaries.
Last year, US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian ran aground near Palawan’s Tubbataha Reef, a Unesco world heritage site, destroying 2,345.67 sq ms of 10-meter-high coral reefs.
Until today, the US has yet to pay the 60 million pesos fine imposed by the Philippine government, an amount labeled by critics as just a pittance in that the incident caused least US$342 million in damage to coral reefs.
“The impending construction of a base on Oyster Bay, which is within a marine protected area, seems to be the next crime the US is intent on pushing through with,” the Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment” says.It says the US has yet to clean up the toxic wastes and rehabilitate its former military bases Subic and Clark which were shuttered in 1992.
A leftist group also assailed the rise of a new Subic, saying it violates the Philippine Constitution banning foreign military installations in the country.In a statement, Pamalakaya says a US military base in Palawan is not only meant to check China’s aggressive expansion into the West Philippine Sea, but also to maintain the military hegemony of Washington in the region.
“We will contest this grand mockery of Philippine sovereignty in the parliament of the streets, in any appropriate court or forum, and in the court of public opinion,” it says.
Militants fear that the people of Palawan will wake up one day to find that the entire island province is transformed into a virtual US military base similar to the one in Okinawa, Japan.
Plans are also afoot to station 50 to 60 US marines in Palawan as an advance detachment at the South China Sea.The US also wants to convert the 246-hectare Philippine Marine Corps reservation in Palawan, particularly the Brooke’s Point, and nearby areas into joint US-Philippines marine operational command posts.
Part of the cooperation is the installation of high-powered radar systems in strategic areas from north to south of Palawan facing the potentially oil-rich West Philippine Sea.The new radars, meant to monitor China’s naval activities, form part of the Philippines’ plans to give American forces, ships and aircraft access to more of the country’s military camps and facilities.
Although Philippine laws prohibit permanent foreign military bases in the country, the Americans have somehow found a loophole – embed themselves in the Philippines’ own camps and facilities to skirt the ban and advance their geo-political interests in the Asia-Pacific region.