Sustainability of biodiversity, PH life support system, is Filipinos’ survival

TRUE to its mandate, the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) has been holding conferences to, among others, communicate and spread the results of NRCP-funded research studies.

Bringing the results to the users of technology products out of the research, or commercializing them, gives meaning to research. Otherwise, if the research outputs are only meant to gather dust in libraries, the government, then, has no business providing funds.

screenshot_20181020-132104-e1540013690301.jpgThere are more important things the tax payers’ money should be spent on.

On October 12, the NRCP under the leadership of its president, Dr. Ramon Razal, conducted its 2nd Basic Research Symposium: Communicating Basic Research to the People: The Values of Philippine Flora and Fauna, precisely to make flesh out of scientific studies.

In her welcome remarks at the event, Undersecretary for Research and Development Dr. Rowena Cristina L. Guevara, Department of Science and Technology (DOST), lauded NRCP’s holding of  the symposium on basic research which, she observed, provided “some new knowledge and innovative discoveries from our various Philippine fauna and flora.”

The theme of the symposium, she said, gave a view of the many principles of Philippine biodiversity.

Understanding healthy biodiversity

“I believe this will allow us to understand the value of a healthy biodiversity and environment especially that the (six) researches (to be presented) tackle the three levels of biodiversity — genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem biodiversity,” Guevara said.

The DOST undersecretary linked the abundant Philippine flora and fauna to benefits they can give Filipinos through research findings that may lead to the production of low-cost medicine, food security, balance ecosystem, and more new information about some of the country’s endemic species of flora and fauna.

“As I have mentioned earlier, the NRCP is the DOST Council that has its mandate to promote and support fundamental or basic research. In other words, the projects it supports serve as trailblazer for further or advanced research and in generating new knowledge,” Guevara stressed.

Six basic research

Researchers presented their respective studies at the event, grouped into the Philippine Flora and the Philippine Fauna, namely:

  • The Genetics of Our Very Own Herb — G. Jonathan B. Alejandro, Ph.D. through Ms. Hao Wei C. Hsu.
  • Pinoy Herb Extracts for Achy Gout — Christine C. Hernandez, Ph.D.
  • Medical Potentials of Marine Flora — Ross Dizon Vasquez, Ph.D.
  • Not All is Bad with the “Corny Worm” — Mary Anna Ona Torio, Ph.D.
  • Our Fav Kuhol! The Way They Grow and Multiply — Ayolani V. De Lara, Ph.D.
  • Native and Introduced Rats in Mount Banahaw: What’s on Their Food Menu — Anna Pauline O. De Guia, Ph.D.

Easily, one of the highlights of the symposium was the keynote message of Director Crisanta Marlene P. Rodriguez, Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB).

In her message, she emphasized what could be the unquestionable importance of the biodiversity of the Philippines, saying that “biodiversity is our life support system.”

It could be a question of life and death, not in the immediate future. Maybe a slow death.

“Their sustainability, therefore, largely determines our capacity to survive and farther advance economically amidst the increasing demand for resources for the booming population and the formidable effects of a changing climate,” said Rodriguez.

The DENR-BMB director cited a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) study that put the economic value of the services the country derives from its biodiversity, a whopping Php2.32 trillion.

Philippine Eagle on WikipediaPhilippine Eagle in Davao City. (Photo: Wikipedia)

However, she said, Filipino researchers have yet to tap the country’s “rich genetic resources” from the diverse flora and fauna, which should provide local scientists “the exclusive opportunity to work on distinct species to uncover potentially new technologies.”

PH a biodiversity hotspot

On the other hand, Rodriguez noted the Philippines’ dual reputation of being “a biologically mega-diverse country” and a “notoriety for being a biodiversity hotpsot.

It is because, she explained, of habitat loss, pollution, invasive alien species introduction, over-exploitation and climate change.

“The statistics are glaring with only about 24 percent forest cover remaining, 16 percent of land vertebrates and 6 percent of flora at risk of extinction,” she pointed out.

Meanwhile, she cited the vital role of the DENR through the BMB as it takes the lead role in the conservation of Philippine flora and fauna, and biodiversity.

Flora and Fauna productsVarious products from the country’s abundant flora and fauna species. Photo: EKU)

“With the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to which we are a party, we have developed the ‘2015-2028 Philippine Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan’  or the PBSAP, which is a manifestation of our firm resolve to protect our bodiversity heritage from further destruction and unregulated exploitation,” Rodriguez underscored.

The DENR-BMB executive said the implementation of the PBSAP is in partnership with the society’s various sectors, including the science community who are expected to supply the scientific anchor for government policies and management strategies.

Through the PBSAP, Rodriguez assured, “the nation is taking bold steps to secure the remaining areas of the country which are biologically significant through the management of a network of protected areas, encompassing forestlands, wetlands, caves and marine ecosystems.”

Orchids on PixabayA Philippine orchid. (Photo: Pixabay)

She said there are milestones achieved through the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System or ENIPAS Law.

  • Establishment of 244 protected areas, which roughly covers 35 percent of the country’s 228 key biodiversity areas.
  • Protected areas (PAs) represent 2.7 million hectares, about 39 percent of the 6.9 million hectares forest cover of the country.
  • Under ENIPAS Law, PAs will be able to sustain ecological services and serve as sites for nature-based tourism, education, and scientific research.
  • Promotion of nature-based tourism in PAs, hope is there to improve the tourism industry which contributes 7 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Rodriguez cited the sustainability of a nature-based tourism compared to “resource extractive activities such as mining which surprisingly contributes only 2 percent to our GDP.”

She  commended the NRCP bringing together the best minds of the country to work on discoveries and breakthroughs in scientific researches.

fauna-and-flora.jpgFour little feathered friends in an urban garden. (Photo: EKU)

From her speech at the symposium, here are some of the statistics that Filipinos should know about the Philippines being a “biodiversity powerhouse” that harbors diverse assemblage and unique life forms, such as:

  • More than 1,437 species of vertebrate fauna (207 species of terrestrial mammals, 685 species of birds, 352 species of reptiles, and 118 species of amphibians.
  • Invertebrate species (over 20,000 species of insects, and 22,000 species of mollusks.
  • In the plant kingdom, the Philippines remains one of the “strongholds of floral diversity, at No. 5 in global ranking with over 16,000 plant species, the country is part of the Coral Triangle, the world’s richest marine area which houses 75 percent of the coral species, 40 percent of all coral reef fish species, largest extent of mangroves and spawning ground for the world’s largest tuna population.
  • Statistics on biodiversity shows over 52,000 organisms were described in the country and counting is still going on with new species being described.

Rodriguez said that for the past 25 years, 270 new endemic species have been discovered, which amount to 10 new species being discovered yearly.

She said the value of the country’s biodiversity, which covers genetic, species and ecosystem levels, cannot be over-emphasized.

Scores of benefits from biodiversity

The myriad of benefits that Filipinos can derive through its provisioning and ecological services include water, food, pharmaceuticals, biomass fuels, ecotourism, carbon sequestration and climate regulation, crop pollination, not to mention cultural, intellectual and spiritual inspiration, she said.

Rodriguez mentioned some examples, such as 421 principal river basins and 59 freshwater lakes, which can supply 479 billion cubic meter of freshwater every year. That figure, she pointed out, is 17 times more than what Filipinos actually consumed, or used.

“The economic value of insect pollination in the Philippines is at Php35 billion (in 2009), as assessed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“Before you feast on a creamy durian, you should thank a fruit bat for pollinating the durian flowers, now more than a billion-peso industry annually,” she added.

Flora ARMMFruits and processed foods from Mindanao. (Photo: EKU)

In doing scientific investigation, she said, Filipinos can uncover the extent and richness of Philippine biodiversity, leading to the unleashing of their potential that will contribute to the improvement and diversification of agricultural crops; production of novel drugs, neutraceuticals, and cosmetics; environmental enhancement; propagation or breeding of species to enhance our wildlife industry; and promotion of urban biodiversity, among other explorations in the field of biotechnology.”

The DENR-BMB director also cited the need to prevent the piracy of the country’s genetic resources which is being done through illegal collection and patenting of technologies derived by pirates or thieves without compensating Filipinos fairly.

Rodriguez enumerated some of the pirated resources through bio-piracy from the country’s biodiversity wealth, such as the Philippine Yew Tree (Taxus sumatrana) out of which was an anti-cancer compound called Taxol; the patenting of a drug for the treatment of fever, diarrhea, diabetes, and as purgative and stimulant from banaba tree (Lagerstroema speciosa); saluyot or jute, which is mass-produced and processed as an anti-stress tablet; and the drug Prialt or Ziconotide which was developed from Philippine sea snail (Conus magnus).

Thus, she encouraged Filipino scientists to do the discovery themselves.

“It is high time for Filipino scientists and researchers to take a more dynamic role in the discovery of the commercial uses of our own genetic resources to benefit the Filipino community,” Rodriguez said.

“(We) are all in this together, complementing the DOST’s efforts as it vigorously promotes innovation and directing initiatives towards a vibrant innovation culture in the areas of health, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, industry, among others. We are all aware that innovation in these areas likewise contribute to the country’s socio-economic development,” said Guevara. (EKU)

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