Protect the Verde Island Passage. Be a #VIPforVIP.

The Verde Island Passage is one of the most biodiverse marine habitats in the planet, serving as home to thousands of species and providing livelihood to millions of Filipinos. Detrimental projects and activities that place the VIP in peril must be, however, are now increasing, and must be stopped immediately.

On the occasion of #WorldTourismDay and in solidarity to the VIP Awareness Week, civil society and environmental groups, fait-based organizations and leader, conservation experts, youth, and community stakeholders came together to launch the #VIPforVIP campaign to celebrate the beauty and significance of the VIP and register our opposition to practices that harm it.

Multi-sectoral network launches signature campaign to protect Verde Island Passage against ‘villainous’ projects; Invite all Filipinos to become ‘VIP’s for VIP

Civil society and faith-based groups, conservation experts, community stakeholders, youth, and other advocates on Monday called attention to the plight of marine biodiversity hotspot Verde Island Passage (VIP) amid increasing detrimental activities threatening it, most alarming of which are massive expansion plans for fossil gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the area.

Protect VIP initiated a signature campaign with an online petition urging local, national, and environmental authorities in government to act on existing commitments to preserve the health of what is known as the ‘center of the center’ of marine shore fish biodiversity in the world and halt the establishment of fossil gas plants and LNG terminals especially in Batangas.

“Proponents often claim that fossil gas is a ‘clean energy’ source, despite a growing global awareness that it is, in fact, destructive…These projects and infrastructures seriously threaten life under and around the waters of VIP. The urgency of this matter is undeniable, and we demand and expect our local and national government units and agencies to act immediately,” the petition read, as presented by Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Protect VIP lead convenor, Social Action Center of Calapan, Mindoro Director, and board member of think-tank Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED).

The online petition, which cited risks of oil spills or disposal of shipboard liquid wastes and bilge water from barges, chemical leak, seawater intake resulting in warmer waters that in turn kill young marine life or force them to move away, and even reports of deaths of fisherfolk and several pawikans due to an existing gas-fired power plant in Ilijan as reason to oppose fossil gas projects in the VIP, was announced at a webinar launching a public-facing campaign called #VIPforVIP in which Filipinos of all walks of life are invited to become VIPs who can be heroes for the biodiversity hotspot and the communities who rely on it for their sustenance against villainous practices and activities.

Representing fisherfolk in Batangas, Silverio Bilario, president of Lakas ng Mangingisda sa Baybayin ng Tabangao (Lambat), notes, “Ang Verde Island Passage ang siyang pinagkukuhanan naming mga mangingisda ng aming kinabubuhay. Ang pagtatayo ng mga fossil gas project na ‘yan ay lalo pang magpapahirap sa aming buhay. Sa kasalukuyan, mahirap nang makahuli ng isda – kailangan naming magpakalayo-layo upang makahuli, at alam naman natin na sa laot ay napakalaki ng mga alon at walang laban ang aming mga bangka. Sa pagdadagdag ng fossil gas sa aming lugar, nangangahulugan na lalong liliiit ang aming huli at kikipot ang aming pangisdaan.”

 The campaign launch featured other community stakeholders, renowned environmentalists, youth, and Church leaders heeding the invitation to become VIPs for VIP and take a stand with those who will be most impacted by threats to it.

“We are joining the fight to protect the Verde Island Passage because it is worth fighting for. Our people’s lives and livelihoods depend on this very important natural ecosystem,” said Yeb Sano, Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

Oriental Mindoro Congressman Alfonso Umali and environmental advocate Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda also expressed solidarity with the campaign.

“Urgent marine and coastal protection are a much needed response. I know that with the mix of expert minds and courageous hearts gathered here today, we are bound to succeed in our collective mission of ensuring the integrity of all our ecosystems, including our oceans and the protection of biodiversity,” Legarda said.

Learn more about the issue by checking out these resources:

Off our coasts: Primer on fighting fossil gas expansion in the Philippines [Available in English, Tagalog, Hiligaynon, and Cebuano]