Representative Edward Hagedorn of Palawan’s 3rd District is trying to get a bill passed that would make the area around Kalayaan Island Group and Scarborough Shoal a marine protected area.

House Bill No. 6373 proposes to designate as a marine protected area (MPA) the atolls, coral reefs, and other vital marine resources within three nautical miles of the Kalayaan Island Group and Scarborough Shoal.

On the bill’s explanatory note, Hagedorn cited a 2012 study by Rudolf de Groot, et. al., which stated that coral reefs are our “single most valuable ecosystem.”

“A hectare, or about 2.5 acres, of reef can produce a potential value of approximately US $350,000 a year. The coral reefs in the Spratlys, which serve as the breeding ground of fish in the South China Sea, comprise 34 percent of the world’s total coral reefs, despite the South China Sea occupying only 2.5 percent of world’s total ocean and sea surface,” it stated.

“As such, the South China Sea is one of the richest marine areas in the world which is the home to diverse marine ecosystems with over 3,000 species of fish and 600 species of coral reef,” it added.

Hagedorn emphasized that the Philippines and other claimant countries should prioritize the protection of natural resources in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) through regional cooperation while the dispute is being resolved.

“We must learn to cooperate as one region in the protection of our natural resources while we settle the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea. The protection of the rich marine resources and environment of the West Philippine Sea is a shared interest and responsibility of all adjoining states around the South China Sea which should be a guiding policy for all of us in the region,” he said.

He also mentioned overfishing, poaching, and large-scale ocean filling or reclamation as activities carried out by other claimant countries to advance their assertions in the WPS while harming the environment.

“We all stand to gain or to lose depending on the outcome of our collective actions while we settle our territorial disputes. Through this bill, we hope for the Philippines to help initiate and spark this regional cooperation,” he added.

Earlier, neophyte lawmaker Hagedorn urged local business leaders to help achieve this goal by convincing all of their contacts in the House to support the legislation.

He also stated that the city’s business community can assist by spreading the word about why Kalayaan should be designated as a protected area.

HB 6373 was also co-authored by Palawan 1st District Rep. Edgardo Salvame and Palawan 2nd District Rep. Jose Chavez Alvarez.