There appears to be urgent concern over environmental damage caused by mining activities in this country. Pockmarked mountains and hills, mine tailings flowing to the sea or silted inland waterways are telltale signs of destruction from mining. These are incontrovertible proof that can be easily seen. Anyone can understand why Environment Secretary Gina Lopez has openly expressed contempt against mining.
Almost immediately, Presidential fiat was given to the proposed plan of action in regulating the mining sector. In fact, the President alluded to giving Secretary Gina the DENR portfolio after she talked to him about the deleterious effects of mining to the environment and the communities.
I share the passion of Secretary Gina in protecting the environment, except I focus on the marine environment. My long involvement in the maritime industry and what I feel is government bias in favor of protecting the terrestrial environment are the two reasons for my advocacy of protecting the marine environment. In my subconscious mind there is also the love for seafood!
Marine litter and garbage washed ashore can be collected and properly disposed of. On the other hand, vast seas conceal the degradation that is taking place beneath calm waters. Discharge of hazardous and harmful substances from ships, whether intentional or accidental, or of invasive alien species (IAS) transported in the ship’s ballast tanks could cause damage to the marine environment and yet these are not easily detected.
In these cases, traces of pollution are not visible and the ensuing damage is hardly noticed. Fisherfolks complain of dwindling catch and the closure of fishing grounds due to “red tide,” which exacerbates their seeming hopeless situation. In a country where 40 percent of the population relies on marine produce for their protein source, this could be devastating. Dying corals, depleted marine resources, and stained and stinking coastlines and beaches need urgent attention.
Although ship-generated waste contributes nominally to marine environment pollution, the international maritime community’s response to this slowly creeping menace is remarkable. The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN specialized agency dealing with the maritime industry, adopted several international conventions dealing with the prevention of and response to pollution of the marine environment. The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973 (MARPOL) and its Protocol, 1978, the Oil Pollution Response Convention, the Ballast Water Management Convention and the anti-Dumping Convention or London Protocol are some of these international treaties.
Add to this list those which concern maritime safety and security conventions such as the International Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974, as amended; Collision Regulations (COLREG) and the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code). These are international conventions that look after seaworthiness of ships but which recognize the consequent effect of marine pollution after every maritime accident. The aforementioned conventions and many other related conventions provide at the most minimum yet essential requirements that States Parties commit to implement and enforce.
The Philippines ratified MARPOL, SOLAS, COLREG and the London Convention among others. However, full implementation and enforcement of these conventions are yet to be achieved. The bill implementing MARPOL is pending in Congress, and has been there for two decades. A clear delineation of the roles of the Maritime Industry Authority as flag State administration and the Philippine Coast Guard, which is in charge of port State control, could help remove one obstacle in the country’s ability of giving full effect to MARPOL.
Drawing up a coherent policy and program on the protection of the marine environment is an obligation the Philippine Government must live up to—not only as a responsible Party to international agreements but more so in securing a sustainable environment for the next generation of Filipinos.