BIOFIN-UNDP Philippines, UP Pi Sigma Fraternity hold a debate on mobilizing biodiversity financing from unconventional sources

UP students waiting for the commencement of the elimination round of the 30th Annual Open Debate Tournament at Malcolm Hall Theater

By Angelique Ogena and Alton Durban 

Quezon City, Philippines – For the second consecutive year, UNDP, through BIOFIN, partnered with the University of the Philippines Pi Sigma Fraternity in holding the 30th Annual Open Debate Tournament. The yearly debate competition, which is the longest running in the Philippines, discusses pressing and controversial issues as well as new ideas and proposed innovative solutions to social, economic or environmental problems. 

Held at the University of the Philippines College of Law last September 8, 2017, this year’s debate topics included urgent and relevant environmental issues, which was the theme for the elimination round. The debate centred around proposals on the feasibility of mobilizing financing for biodiversity conservation from various sources such as income from the automobile excise tax; accrual and use of royalties collected from bioprospecting; compensation for the harmful fishing practices of foreign fishing vessels in Philippine waters; and a shift from mining to sustainable tourism development. 

The tournament was formally opened by Ms. Floradema Eleazar, Team Leader of the Inclusive and Sustainable Development Unit of UNDP. She highlighted the importance of this activity as arguments and ideas raised in the debates would contribute to the drafting or refinement of enabling legislation or implementing guidelines relating to biodiversity conservation and financing.

She said that UNDP hopes that annual debates will continue to carry relevant environmental issues within the arguments, hopefully finding their way in the policy-making process of government. “UNDP appreciates this partnership as we are one with Pi Sigma Fraternity in its principle of Service to the Community.”

Dr. Vincent Hilomen of the Biodiversity Management Bureau echoed the same thought in his opening message and highlighted the need for students to engage in such activities. This will enable them to learn more and appreciate the biodiversity around them and at the same time, relate this to current affairs. 

Prof. Jerwin Agpaoa, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, mentioned in his opening message that students, when made aware of the issues happening around them, will become confident and well equipped to give an opinion and a stand on matters such as the ones lined up for the debate. 

Highlights from the various matches focused on specific biodiversity topics are below. Judges from various government departments, BIOFIN, and UNDP, and the other development practitioners judged each match and awarded a winner. 

Match: “That the Tax Reform Bill include a provision allocating for biodiversity conservation a portion of the income from automobile excise tax" 
Among the prominent features of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act (TRAIN) is the increase in the automobile excise tax. According to the Department of Finance (DOF), income from the restructuring of the automobile excise tax will be used to finance traffic management solutions and new climate-resilient infrastructure.  However, TRAIN currently does not contain any specific earmarking provision on the use of the incremental revenue from the automobile excise tax.

Members of the panel of adjudicators were Floradema Eleazar of UNDP; Atty. Crisostomo Uribe, UP College of Law; Annabelle Trinidad, BIOFIN Global; Atty. Alton Durban, BIOFIN; and Atty. Norman Kalagayan. For this match, the negative (Alpha Phi Beta Fraternity) won over the affirmative (BGC Trailblazers). 

Match: Bioprospecting revenue for local sources
The following match was between the San Beda Law (affirmative) and the Enrique Voltaire Garcia Debate Society (negative). The argument revolved around whether a law should be passed ensuring that 75% of the royalties collected by the National Government from bioprospecting shall accrue to the host local government units and Indigenous Peoples to be used for biodiversity conservation.  

Bioprospecting is the research, collection, and utilization of biological and genetic resources for purposes of applying the knowledge derived solely for commercial purposes. The net present sustainable bioprospecting value of Philippines’ forests is around $36 million annually in perpetuity. Several laws require the sharing of proceeds from the utilization of national wealth. 

Currently, host local communities are required to use their share “solely for biodiversity conservation or environmental protection, including alternative or supplemental livelihood opportunities for community members,” while Indigenous Peoples are to use their share in accordance with their respective Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plans. 

Given the potential income from bioprospecting, it is worthwhile exploring how these revenues can be used for biodiversity conservation such as enhancing law enforcement efforts against illegal wildlife trade and “biopiracy”, protection of traditional knowledge, innovations and practices, and scientific research and development, among others. The affirmative team won this match.

The panel of judges for this match was: Ms. Josefina de Leon, Wildlife Resources Division, Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR); Atty. Jun Quicho of the Small Grants Programme 5 Philippines; Ms. Marlea Muñez, a practitioner of Gender & Rights, Community Forestry, and Climate & Forestry; Dr. Eliseo Banaynal of the Sentrong Katutubong Yaman, United Laboratories, Inc.; and Mr. Ryan Xavier Biscocho. 

Match: Replacing mining with sustainable tourism
Another issue up for debate was whether to replace mining with sustainable tourism development. There are biodiversity-rich places in the Philippines where mining activities are legally allowed and permitted. Sustainable tourism development may provide the similar amount of monetary benefits to the government and the local communities without the risk of permanent or long-term adverse impacts on the local environment. The President has expressed his view that mining in the Philippines is a sunset industry and that the government can forego the estimated PhP40 Billion Pesos that the State collects from the mining industry. The negative team prevailed in this match as deliberated by the following panel of judges: Atty. Maria Paz Luna, Undersecretary for Legal, Legislative Affairs and Anti-Corruption, DENR; Atty. Reynaldo L. Ching, Assistant Secretary for Administration and Special Concerns (ASC), Department of Tourism; Ms. Norma Molinyawe, National Parks Division, BMB-DENR; Dr. Yolanda Aguilar, Marine Geological Survey Division, Mines and Geosciences, DENR; and Atty. Michael Macapagal, Dispute Resolution Practice Group of Quisumbing Torres.

Malampaya Fund
Last year, the debate discussed on the feasibility of tapping the Malampaya fund, which represents the royalties that the government collects from the Malampaya gas project off Palawan Island. The arguments that were borne out of the debate has paved way for BIOFIN to push for the tapping of this fund for biodiversity conservation. Before 2016 ended, Congresswoman Josephine Ramirez-Sato, the Representative from the Lone District of Occidental Mindoro, in close coordination with BIOFIN has Introduced in the House of Representatives House Bill (HB) No. 4604 that seeks to utilize the Malampaya fund for biodiversity conservation. HB 4604 was referred to House Committee on Energy on December 13, 2016. Cong. Sato sponsored HB 4604 at the House Committee on Energy hearing on August 22, 2017. The HB 4604 has a long way to go before it is signed into law but activities such as this debate prove to be instrumental in advocating for the biodiversity financing.   

Around 250 individuals attended the elimination round of the debate this year with debating teams represented by student organizations from well-known universities. 

BIOFIN contributes to closing the financing gap for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity by identifying, accessing, combining and sequencing sources of biodiversity funding to finance the Philippine Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (PBSAP), the country’s roadmap to conserving its biodiversity. The PBSAP implementation will cost PhP24B/year or PhP334B from 2015-2028.  However, public expenditure was estimated at only P4.9B/year thus a gap of almost PhP19B was determined.  Several finance solutions to address the gap were identified and are being piloted by BIOFIN at present.  

Watch the video of the debate here: Part 1, Part 2 

Angelique Ogena is the Information and Communications Assistant and Alton Durban is the Policy Specialist of BIOFIN Philippines. 

Photo credits: University of the Philippines Pi Sigma Fraternity