Villar Pushes Devt Of MMs Vital Wetland

Sen. Cynthia Villar yesterday cited the importance of the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Eco-Tourism Area (LPPCHEA) as a bird sanctuary and mangrove site on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the habitat's designation as a Wetland of International Importance.

"We don't have to go out of Metro Manila for a place where we could commune with nature. Here is an internationally recognized place, where one can go bird-watching in a setting where diverse species of trees and mangrove thrive," Villar, who chairs the Senate committee on environment and natural resources, said in a statement.

On March 15, 2013, LPPCHEA became Site No. 2124 in the Ramsar Convention list of Wetlands of International Importance.

Over 2,200 sites in the world are on this list, which recognizes their "significant value not only for the country or the countries in which they are located, but for humanity as a whole.

Aside from LPPCHEA, six other Ramsar sites are found in the Philippines: the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan, the Tubbataha Reefs National Marine Park in Sulu, the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Agusan del Sur, the Naujan Lake National Park in Oriental Mindoro, the Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary in Cebu, and the Negros Occidental Coastal Wetlands Conservation Area in Negros Occidental.

LPPCHEA qualified as a Ramsar site because of its compliance with the second, fourth and sixth criteria under Ramsar's "Criteria for Identifying Wetlands of International Importance." Criterion 2 means the site supports vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered species or threatened ecological communities; Criterion 4 means it supports plant and/or animal species at a critical stage in their life cycles, or provides refuge during adverse conditions; and Criterion 6 means it regularly supports one percent of the individuals in a population of one species or subspecies of water birds.

The 175-hectare mangrove forest and marine habitat in the cities of Las Piñas and Parañaque serves as sanctuary for 84 bird species, including migratory birds from as far as Siberia.

It is also the breeding site of the vulnerable Philippine Duck and supports at least 1,000 of the remaining 100,000 remaining black-winged stilts in the world.

The LPPCHEA has 36 hectares of mangrove forest, accepted as the thickest and most diverse in Manila Bay. To date, 11 species of mangroves grow in the area.

The senator noted that the survival of the nature reserve has been threatened by reclamation projects and poor solid waste management until recently, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) cancelled the environmental clearance certificates for reclamation projects in the area that prompted proponents to withdraw their plans.

"With these challenges out of the way, we can now proceed with the realization of our vision to develop the LPPCHEA as a tourist and bird watching destination in Metro Manila," Villar said.

She said a memorandum of agreement has been signed by the DENR, the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Villar Social Institute for Poverty Alleviation and Governance (SIPAG) for the development of the Las Piñas-Parañaque Wetland Park at the eco-tourism site, just like the Hong Kong Wetland Park.

Under the agreement, the DENR will allocate P10 million to build nature trails and the installation of water and electricity in the area while TIEZA will give P45 million for the construction of facilities such as the Wetland Center, bird hides, boardwalk and view towers.Villar SIPAG will donate for the construction of the visitors' center.

The Wetland Center will house a wetland museum, a training center, the DENR office, a restaurant and a souvenir shop.

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