Palawan 3rd District Representative Edward Hagedorn on Friday expressed gratitude to the House leadership and his colleagues over the swift and overwhelming approval by the House Committee on Natural Resources of House Bill No. 6373, or the Kalayaan Island Group and Scarborough Shoal – Marine Protected Area (KIGSS-MPA) Bill, which he principally authored.

“I thank House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez for his strong support and commitment for the passage of the bill. The good Speaker gave high priority over the bill and allowed the immediate committee hearing to take place,” Hagerdorn said in a statement.

House Bill No. 6373 aims to declare all low-tide elevations and high-tide features, and an area of three nautical miles surrounding the Kalayaan Island Group and Scarborough Shoal as a marine protected area.

The measure, once enacted, will prohibit and penalize certain acts and activities within the waters of the said area to protect the country’s marine guarantee protection of marine habitat.

Traditional fishing, however, will still be allowed as it is considered generally harmless to the marine ecosystem.

The Palawan lawmaker also thanked all members of the House Committee on Natural Resources, especially its chairperson, Cavite 4th District Rep. Elpidio F. Barzaga Jr. “for ably leading the hearing and for pushing for its approval.”

He likewise cited his fellow Palaweño, Palawan 2nd District Rep. Jose Alvarez who strongly showed his support during the hearing.

“But a most special thanks should be given to CIBAC Partylist Rep. Eduardo ‘Brother Eddie’ Villanueva who, in my absence during the hearing, stood in my behalf as the sponsor of the bill. He brilliantly presented and explained to the body the very essence of the bill. His inclusion of biblical passages highlighted the overarching and transcendental importance of protecting our natural resources in the KIG and Scarborough Shoal,” Hagedorn’s statement read.

In presenting the proposed measure, Villanueva stressed that the bill is focused on the protection of the marine environment of the KIG and Scarborough Shoal, and not on the territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea.

He cited a study by the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute in 2019 which showed that coral reefs in Kalayaan Islands – particularly in Pag-asa Island, Panata Island and Sabina Shoal – were damaged by alleged illegal activities, such as blast fishing.

“We cannot afford not to act because the habitat of marine life in our waters, which benefits not only the Philippines but also adjacent countries like China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, is being destroyed,” Villanueva was quoted as saying during the committee hearing.

Hagedorn also cited known West Philippine Sea advocate and retired Supreme Court (SC) Justice Antonio Carpio after the ex-SC associate justice gave his full support to the bill.

Carpio, one of the country’s leading experts on WPS issues, and whose incisive insights provided a better refinement of the salient provisions of the bill.

Hagedorn also extended his gratitude the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of National Defense (DND), and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for their strong support.

“It is my sincerest belief that pushing for environmental protection for the KIG and Scarborough Shoal is a common ground that every Filipino could rally behind. We do hope that this environmental lens would be likewise used by other coastal states surrounding the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea to promote cooperation and environmental protection for greater peace, stability and prosperity for the entire region,” he said. (PNA)