Climate and Environment

Gov't, Lopez companies team up to protect Verde Island Passage

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Gov't, Lopez companies team up to protect Verde Island Passage
First Gen CEO Federico Lopez, Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga, Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla, and ABS-CBN Foundation Managing Director Roberta Lopez-Feliciano pose for a photo following the signing of a memorandum of understanding for the protection and conservation of the Verde Island Passage on May 16, 2024.

MANILA, Philippines — The government on Thursday formalized a partnership with power producer First Gen Corp. and the ABS-CBN Foundation to protect and enhance biodiversity-rich Verde Island Passage (VIP). 

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Energy (DOE) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Lopez-owned companies to conserve the area known as the "center of the center" of the world's marine shore fish biodiversity. 

The five-year partnership focuses on building a network of marine research stations with educational institutions, and using sustainable practices in conservation, waste management, water supply and transportation. 

The MOU also aims to create a system to share knowledge about the protection and conservation of VIP's coastal and marine resources, develop a long-term plan for sustainability with local partners, and form a technical working group to coordinate research efforts. 

Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga said the MOU with First Gen and ABS-CBN Foundation builds upon the two decades of scientific and conservation work undertaken by the Lopez group in the VIP, a critical waterway between mainland Luzon and Mindoro island. 

"In our quest to conserve, preserve and protect the critical marine ecosystem of the VIP, First Gen and the ABS-CBN Foundation are the pioneers in this important area in terms of their support for science as well as the championing of environmental, social and governance, and climate action," Yulo-Loyzaga said. 

First Gen co-pioneered conservation and protection activities for the VIP through the Center of Center (COC) Program, a partnership with Conservation International-Philippines and Lopez-owned First Philippine Conservation Inc. 

First Gen and ABS-CBN Foundation also led the effort to nominate the marine corridor as a "hope spot" to recognize the area's critical role in ocean health. Mission Blue, a conservation nonprofit, designated it as such in 2023.

"It was and still is incumbent upon us to do all we can to make sure our presence is not just benign but enhancing to the environment," said Federico Lopez, CEO and chair of First Gen.

"Our support for VIP also adheres to our group's mission of forging collaborative pathways for a decarbonized and regenerative future," he added. 

Balance between gas dev't, marine protection

The collaboration with First Gen and ABS-CBN Foundation comes a week after the government signed a separate stewardship agreement of the VIP with the country's three largest conglomerates: Aboitiz Equity Ventures (AEV), Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC), and San Miguel Corp. (SMC). 

Groups such as the Protect VIP, however, expressed reservations with the government's partnership with AEV, MPIC and SMC, who earlier teamed up to develop the country's "first and most expansive" liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in Batangas. 

Protect VIP said the three companies' gas business is "one of the worst risks confronting the VIP today."

Five of the six existing gas facilities, four of the seven proposed LNG terminals, and nine of the 39 planned gas power plants in the country are located in Batangas. 

First Gen also operates four existing gas-fired power plants with a combined capacity of 2,017 megawatts in Batangas. Last December, the Lopez-owned power firm agreed to lease out its LNG terminal in the province to Razon-led Prime Infrastructure Capital Inc.

While First Gen utilizes natural gas for power generation, the company emphasized its commitment to clean operations and adherence to strict environmental regulations.

"The DENR is very strict about emissions, and they are always definitely well within the legal requirements… It's also important for us that whatever vessels we use are also within international regulations and safe," Lopez said.

The government defended its partnership with gas companies to safeguard the VIP, with Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla saying: "We look forward to the implementation of the agreements rather than casting doubts from the outset." 

"Our direction is to bring constructive relationships rather than destructive ones, and so when there's an opportunity that can add positively to environmental protection, we will explore and expand the range of these relationships," Yulo-Loyzaga said. 

LNG has been pitched as a "bridge fuel" that can help the shift to a low-carbon economy. Climate and energy campaigners, however, noted that LNG produces potent greenhouse gas methane, and blocks the transition to cleaner energy sources such as solar and wind.

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