Youth group stands up to threats against Camotes Island’s biodiversity

Youth group “Laraw Sa Isla” launched a campaign calling for the repeal of a proposed law that they said threatened the biodiversity of the Camotes Islands, sacrificing the ecosystem as a trade-off for economic development.

Laraw Sa Isla, a youth community based in San Francisco town in Camotes Island, launched an online petition on seeking to protect the Camotes Sea and to preserve the biodiversity of the 3 Camotes Islands from the “harmful economic activity”.

Last month, Cebu 5th District Representative Vincent Franco “Duke” Frasco sponsored House Bill No. 6900 in order to give residents of Camotes Islands the power to claim property in areas over the land.

Under Presidential Proclamation No. 2152, all 3 islands collectively known as Camotes Islands, were classified as part of the Mangrove Swamps Forest Reserves. This means that any form of land disposition and development is not allowed in the area.

The proposed legislation seeks to lift the classification of Swamp Forest Reserves of drylands in the towns of Pacijan, Poro, and Ponson and reclassify them as alienable and disposable lands. This would give land ownership to over 100,000 residents of the towns of Pilar, Poro, San Francisco, and Tudela.

According to Frasco, economic activity would significantly increase and benefit residents as investors would be able to develop the newly-owned parcels of land.

Laraw Sa Isla, however, wants the government to instead pursue an impact study to identify the best-suited development for the sustainability of the islands before any law is passed affecting the current status of the Camotes group of islands.

“Development is one of the major keys in eradicating poverty and improving the quality of life. Investors create jobs and increase wealth. There is no doubt that we need development,” they wrote in the online petition.

“However, development that requires big sacrifice from the environment, displaces as well as exploits us, the local people, and threatens the sustainability of our place, is the thing we don't agree with.,” they added.

In a text message to Rappler, Frasco said: “As far as I know, my bill is not about the environment but basic Filipino right to own property.”

In a 2019 interview with Ateneo de Manila law professor Tony La Viña on the issue, he said that (1) the Camotes Islands are ground zero for climate change impacts; (2) nothing should be done to increase the islands’ vulnerability to said impacts; and that (3) changing the protected status would be inconsistent with keeping the islands invulnerable.

La Viña also noted that before any legal change would be made, a comprehensive statement must be done, together with an adoption of a developed land and sea plan. The statement would include details on the carrying capacity of the islands and would be the basis for the said change.

As of this writing, at least 400 people have signed the petition. You may check out the petition here. – reports from Lorraine Ecarma and Ryan Macasero