(Photo courtesy of the Tubbataha Management Office)

Stakeholders of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) welcomed their newest private donor, the Jimenez Group of Companies, on Saturday during a virtual memorandum of agreement (MOA) signing.

TRNP management and its partners said that the partnership will greatly help with the park management’s law enforcement activities and keeping their facilities afloat, especially now that the park has no tourism income due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

The Jimenez Group is owned by Menardo Jimenez, former chief executive officer (CEO) of media giant GMA Network, Inc. The company has also since ventured into real estate.

During the virtual signing, Menardo ‘Butch’ Jimenez (the elder Jimenez’s son) and Butch’s son Benjamin Ted represented the company saying they are willing and prepared to help conserve the park in any way they can.

TRNP park superintendent and Mama Ranger Angelique Songco said that the partnership was an answer to their prayers. The Tubbataha Management Office’s (TMO) financial assets were already running low because of the absence of tourists. The conservation fees, which are collected from visitors, are crucial to park management’s expenses such as fuel and the park rangers’ salaries.

“Unfortunately, the fund is not enough for the coming year. Pero buti na lang, napakamadasalin natin sa TMO. Ipinagdadasal namin lahat, at nasagot ang aming prayers. One day, in September, Mr. Menardo Jimenez sent us an e-mail offering to support Tubbataha,” Songco said during the event.

In her opening remarks, Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) member Trin Custodio stated that even amidst the pandemic, the reef still faces many threats such as illegal fishing. In early October, 26 fishermen from Iloilo were apprehended by park rangers in the Jessie Beazley Reef, their boat holding implements used for blast fishing. Climate change is also a problem for the reef, due to coral bleaching.

“The reef provides irreplaceable ecosystems to the greater Sulu Sea and economic goods to the tourism and fisheries industry. The threats that face Tubbataha are many, such as illegal and destructive human activities within its boundaries and other pressing climate-related challenges,” Custodio said.

The TRNP is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular SCUBA diving site because of its rich marine biodiversity. It is also a seabird sanctuary, where endangered bird species come to nest and raise their young.

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is a senior reporter for Palawan News who covers politics, education, environment, tourism, and human interest stories. She loves watching Netflix, reading literary fiction, and listens to serial fiction podcasts. Her favorite color is blue.