For the second consecutive year, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), through the Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN), partnered with UP’s Pi Sigma Fraternity in holding the 30th Annual Open Debate Tournament at the College of Law, University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, Quezon City on September 8, 2017. The yearly debate competition, which is the longest-running in the Philippines, discusses pressing and controversial issues of the day as well as new ideas and proposed innovative solutions to social, economic or environmental concerns. This year’s debate topics included urgent and relevant environmental issues, the themes for the elimination round. Up for discourse were proposals on the feasibility of mobilizing financing for biodiversity conservation from various sources such as: 1) income from the automobile excise tax under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act; 2) accrual and use of royalties collected from bioprospecting; 3) compensation for the harmful fishing practices of foreign fishing vessels in the Scarborough Shoal; and 4) the shift from mining to sustainable tourism development.
The tournament was formally opened by Ms. Floradema Eleazar, Team Leader of the Inclusive and Sustainable Development Unit of UNDP. She highlighted the importance of this activity as arguments and ideas raised in the debates would contribute to the drafting or refinement of enabling legislation or implementing guidelines relating to biodiversity conservation and financing. She ended her talk by reiterating that “the UNDP appreciates this partnership as we are one with Pi Sigma Fraternity in its principle of Service to the Community.”
Dr. Vincent Hilomen of the Biodiversity Management Bureau echoed the same thought in his opening message and highlighted the need for students to engage in such activities. He said that these would enable them to know and appreciate biodiversity around them more and see its relation and impact to current national affairs.
Prof. Jerwin Agpaoa, UP Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, cited in his remarks that students, when made aware of the issues happening around them, would become confident and well- equipped to give their take and stand on matters such as the debate participants.
Ms. Eleazar said that UNDP hoped annual debates such as that of UP Pi Sigma’s would continue to carry relevant environmental issues to the fore and that the arguments brought forth during such events would contribute to the policy making process of the government. Last year, the debate delved on the feasibility of using the Malampaya fund – which represents the royalties collected by the government from the Malampaya gas project off Palawan Island – for biodiversity conservation. Arguments that were born out of the debate have paved the way for BIOFIN to push for the tapping of the said fund. As a tangible result, Congresswoman Josephine Ramirez-Sato, Representative from the Lone District of Occidental Mindoro – in close coordination with BIOFIN – introduced in the House of Representatives House Bill (HB) No. 4604 before the end of 2016. HB 4604 was referred to the House Committee on Energy on December 13, 2016 and Cong. Sato sponsored it at the House Committee on Energy hearing on August 22, 2017. HB 4604 has a long way to go before it is signed into law, but activities such as this debate has proved to be instrumental in advocating for biodiversity financing.
Around 250 individuals attended this year’s elimination round with debate teams representing student organizations from well-known universities. Spectators were from various sectors including law, college and high school students from within Metro Manila.
BIOFIN contributes to closing the financing gap for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity by identifying, accessing, combining and sequencing sources of biodiversity funding to finance the Philippine Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (PBSAP), the country’s roadmap to conserving biodiversity. The PBSAP implementation costs PhP 24B/year or PhP 334B from 2015-2028. However, public expenditure was estimated at only PhP 4.9B/year thus revealing a gap of almost PhP 19B. Several finance solutions to address the gap were identified and are being piloted by BIOFIN at present. (BIOFIN/ Angelique F. Ogena)