May 23-24, 2017 – More than 500 leaders and practitioners from about 180 civil society organizations, local governments, academic institutions, private sector, DENR central and field offices and environmental managers from all over the country gathered at the “First National Biodiversity Congress” held at the Crowne Plaza Galleria, for the discourse on best practices, important lessons and insights from years of biodiversity conservation work in the Philippines. The event also coincided with the celebration of the International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22.
The Congress, which was spearheaded by the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and BMB-implemented Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP5), carried the theme “Upwelling of Lessons, Sustaining Community Benefits in the Conservation of Landscapes and Seascapes.”
“The BMB is among the strongest partners of UNDP in the march towards attaining the SDGs, particularly SDGs 1 (No Poverty), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Municipalities), 13 (Climate Action), 14 (Life below Water), and 15 (Life on Land). These SDGs represent the global consensus that biodiversity is essential to fighting poverty and ensuring humanity’s resilience and perpetuity in the face of environmental and economic challenges,” said UNDP Country Director Titon Mitra in his Opening Remarks read by UNDP’s Inclusive and Sustainable Development Programme Manager Floradema Eleazar.
More than 100 presentations were featured in the three-day event, packed in nine plenary sessions and 30 breakout sessions tackling various aspects of biodiversity conservation work in areas of protected area management, landscapes and seascapes establishment and governance, building and strengthening biodiversity-friendly enterprises, conservation financing, and building an inclusive biodiversity conservation community. Most of these presentations were by community-based practitioners and posited new ideas and technologies. They also drew out best practices, lessons, and insights from government, international organizations and civil society initiatives that include projects funded by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE).
“These presentations proved that we have achieved tremendously in biodiversity conservation but still need to do a lot more of working and thinking. We are publishing the proceedings of the Congress with sharp analyses as to how we can further improve practice, identifying as a matter of course the appropriate policies that need to be in place to ensure significant impacts on ecosystems and people’s lives,” said Atty. Jun Quicho, SGP-5 Country Programme Manager who also acted as overall Congress coordinator.
The Congress witnessed the unveiling of the Philippine Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (PBSAP) 2015-2028 and the Philippines’ Voluntary Commitments to the Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water for the Ocean Conference, as well as the launching of the Coastal and Marine Ecosystems Management Program (CMEMP). Ms. Antoinette Taus, actress-singer and UNDP advocate for SDG 14, emceed the ceremony.
The Philippine Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (PBSAP) is the country’s blueprint in conserving biodiversity and was developed in close consultation with various sectors to ensure that it reflects and responds to the needs of biodiversity conservation and critical ecosystem services at the international, national and local levels. It covers actions on forest, coastal and marine, inland wetlands, caves and cave systems, protected areas, invasive alien species, agrobiodiversity, access and benefit-sharing and urban biodiversity plan. This plan “reveals the financing gap of implementing the PBSAP, estimated to be at least PhP334 billion or PhP24 billion annually, until 2028,” said Ms. Anabelle Plantilla, Project Manager of the Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) Project.
The Philippine Government’s Voluntary Commitments to the Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water was presented at the Ocean Conference, held at the UN Headquarters in New York on 4-11 June 2017, which aimed to be the game changer that would reverse the decline in the health of the world’s oceans.
The Coastal and Marine Ecosystems Management Program (CMEMP) is a 12-year (2017-2028) national program which aims to comprehensively manage, address and effectively reduce the drivers and threats of degradation of the coastal and marine ecosystems to achieve and promote sustainability of ecosystem services, food security and climate change resiliency, employing a ridge-to-reef management approach.
On the sideline of the event, the winners of the Selfie for Biodiversity 2017 photo contest, an annual competition organized by BMB and GIZ GmbH, were announced. With this year's theme "Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism", the contest challenged enthusiasts to capture scenes showing and highlighting how biodiversity is connected to sustainable tourism or efforts to sustain biodiversity. The grand prize winners were Marrise Tumampos for the selfie category and Mark Joseph Francisco for the non-selfie category.
Strengthening CSO participation and community benefits
A consultative assembly was held to strategize the strengthening and deepening of the participation of civil society in the governance of the GEF System of Transparent Allocation of Resources (STAR) for the Philippines.
FPE Executive Director Oliver Agoncillo and others emphasized the critical roles of civil society organizations in the GEF programming processes in order to ensure that funds are maximized and intended results are achieved.
The consultation led to the approval of GEF-CSO Network Roadmap.
For 25 years now, the GEF has been one of the biggest contributors to the Philippine Government’s efforts in meeting its commitments in various international conventions in the areas of biodiversity, climate change, international waters, chemicals and waste, forests, land degradation, and capacity-building. Under GEF Cycle 6 (2014-2018), the Philippines has been allocated at least US$ 39 million, of which US$ 25 million need to be approved for environmental projects before the end of the year. From GEF cycles 1 to 5, a total of US$ 643 million national and regional projects were implemented in the Philippines.
The Congress also featured an exhibition and marketing of biodiversity-based products of natural resource-dependent communities.
Speakers at the First National Biodiversity Congress included Senator Loren Legarda, Senator Cynthia Villar, Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat, Jr., Occidental Mindoro Representative Josephine Ramirez-Sato, Undersecretary for Climate Change Service and Operational Focal Point for GEF Analiza Rebuelta-Teh, BMB Director Mundita Lim, Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, Dean Antonio La Viña, Prof. Pons Benagen, Climate Change Commission Vice-Chairperson Frances Veronica Victorio, and National Scientists Dr. Angel Alcala and Dr. Gavino Trono.
“The International Day for Biological Diversity offers a timely reminder of the importance of effective management of a country’s natural wealth. Few places in the world are as rich in biodiversity as the Philippines – considered as one of 17 mega-biodiverse countries, harboring more diversity of life per hectare than any other country in the world,” BMB Director Theresa Mundita Lim said. (SGP5/ Anna Rita Cano Saet)