11 May 2017 | Conrad Hotel, Philippines

Delivered by: PH Department of Environment and Natural Resources Undersecretary Jonas Leones

This is a distinct honour for me, marking my first speaking engagement before a distinguished international audience as our country’s Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources.

Chair Mundita S. Lim; the other distinguished leaders of the ASEAN Working Group on Coastal and Marine Environment; members of the Philippine delegation; the diplomatic community; ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

I thank the ASEAN Working Group on Coastal and Marine Environment and its Chair for the opportunity to participate as the speaker in this year’s Meeting.

This Meeting is of great importance to my country as it plays a role in charting the path for ASEAN Community building over the next ten years. We shall be forging the roadmap through the ASEAN Strategic Plan of Action (ASPEN), which articulates ASEAN goals and aspirations to realise further consolidation, integration and stronger cohesiveness of ASEAN Member States (AMS) as a Community.

I would like to emphasize the focus we are now giving on biodiversity conservation. The ASEAN region contains 18 per cent of the plants and animals and is home to three of the 17 known mega-diverse countries (i.e., Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines). ASEAN alone already has one-third, or 86,025 km2 of all known coral reef areas in the world. 60% of the tropical peatlands are in Southeast Asia (23 million ha). We have numerous endemic and rare endangered species and unique ecosystem services, storing more than 80 billion tons of carbon in forests contributing significantly to the livelihoods of a substantial number of people.

And crucially at this point, we have to acknowledge the immense threats this rich biodiversity in our region are confronted with.

Thus addressing these threats, ASEAN connectivity is all the more imperative at this point. The haze from Indonesian forests rage from time to time and crosses borders affecting not just one or two countries. The effects of illegal harvesting of giant clams in the Philippines has consequences beyond our country’s territorial waters. Giant clams are not only food and shelter, they are reef builders and shapers. In this era of climate change onslaught, the corals dying of bleaching due to acidification need the giant clams to regenerate.

Connectivity among ASEAN ecosystems plays an important role in larval dispersion. A school of fish may lay eggs in one country, but throughout their life cycle, they may migrate from one nation to another in our interconnected oceans.

This year, my country also plays host to the 12th Meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP12) to the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). The CMS is the only global intergovernmental treaty established exclusively for the conservation and management of terrestrial, marine and avian migratory species throughout their range.

The Philippines is so far the only ASEAN country party to the Convention. In this regard, I am deeply honoured to invite you, my fellow ASEAN members to be part of the CMS as well.

Many of our migratory species are faced with extinction. If we can come together and work within the CMS framework, we can actively endeavour to strictly protect them. We need to prohibit the taking of such species, conserve and restore their habitats, prevent mitigating obstacles to their migration and control other factors that might endanger them.

Fellow ASEAN members, may I also enjoin you all, to ensure that we move together to effectively implement the ASPEN. For an ASEAN to be a global player, we must ensure our contributions to the ASEAN Vision 2025 will be realized through the Strategic Priorities we have identified under the ASPEN, namely: Nature Conservation and Biodiversity; Coastal and Marine Environment; Water Resources Management; Sustainable Cities; Climate Change; Chemicals and Waste; Environmental Education [and Sustainable Consumption and Production].

ASEAN needs strong resolve and action to confront the challenges our region faces. Environmental issues are multidisciplinary and crosssectoral in nature, resulting to some of the most difficult and complex problems that we encounter in the region. They are a pressing and urgent concern for all of us.

Quoting our President, “we shall not be cowed. We will press on. We must re-double our efforts to concentrate on making ASEAN inclusive, sustainable, resilient, and dynamic.” Our efforts must continue to engage and benefit all ASEAN communities.

Ours is a fragile world. We now recognize this, and we shall robustly and staunchly defend our natural heritage.

Mabuhay tayong lahat. Thank you and good morning.

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