Shoring up a legacy
How the MPIC Foundation preserves and protects the marine ecosystem through coastal cleanups and mangrove propagation in the Philippines
PHILIPPINE-based Metro Pacific Investments Corporation (MPIC) began by simply funding coastal cleanups. Soon after they sponsored an event, they saw the devastation caused by tropical storm Ondoy (a.k.a. typhoon Ketsana) in September of 2009 causing damage worth 11 billion pesos (US$218 million). That was when the idea for their environmental advocacy programme ‘Shore It Up’ was born.
“We started seeing all the rubbish being swept ashore. As mere sponsors you can’t do anything, you rely on the organizers and you’re just there to support. So, we thought of coming up with something to institutionalize the environmental advocacy we were doing,” explains Melody Del Rosario, vice president, public relations and corporate communications at MPIC and executive director of the MPIC Foundation.
The MPIC Foundation has since conducted major yearly cleanups through a two-day event, which consists of coastal and underwater cleanups, installation of artificial reefs, learning sessions and a Junior Environmental Scouts initiative. The programme has now been conducted in ten municipalities and three provinces.
“There are a lot of stakeholders in this, the divers, community members in the coastal area and the local government unit (LGU),” says Del Rosario. Volunteers from the company and other parts of the MVP Group get involved, and their expenses are subsidized. “On and off, if we go to a venue we have about 70 volunteers from the [MVP] group.”
Del Rosario admits that starting out it was tough to get the community involved. “Nobody was paying us any attention. We would usually invite the LGU and they would send their barangay (district) captains, because they didn’t know what we’re trying to do, or they thought that we’re just another company doing some ‘green-washing’”.
In recent years, the MPIC Foundation has also been focusing its efforts on the propagation of mangrove forests, which protect coastal areas from erosion and form habitats for marine life. Deforestation has been caused by overharvesting and clearing for development, and mangrove forests have shrunk from 500,000 hectares in 1918 to 117,000 hectares in 2012, according to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
Noticing this need, in late 2014 the foundation set up a mangrove information centre, staffed by eco-guides in Del Carmen, Siargao island, a major tourist destination. Early last year, they opened another in the coastal village of Bued, Alaminos and the wheels are in motion for a third in Cordova, Cebu. The centres currently protect a total of 13,000 hectares of mangroves.
In Del Carmen, there was a 90% reduction in chopping mangroves for firewood after setting up the centre. Instead of fishing, the local boatmen are also now conducting mangrove tours. To date, 137 families have benefitted from mangrove protection and an increase in tourism.
The LGUs are also invested and share in the revenues of the centres, and provide salaries to the eco-guides. “We share this livelihood programme with the LGUs. Half of their salary is provided by the local government, so that they have ownership of the programme, and half is sponsored by the company.”
‘Shore It Up’ celebrates its 10th anniversary this coming March and plans are underway for a mass coastal and underwater cleanup to mark the occasion. As recognition of the company’s achievements, the programme has been awarded the Best Initiative in Environmental Responsibility as part of The Asset Corporate Awards, Asia’s premier and longest-running ESG awards.When asked what has been the most satisfying part of the ‘Shore It Up’ programme, Del Rosario is candid. “It’s seeing how the community has actually benefitted from all this in terms of improving their livelihood. The stories that I receive about families experiencing better lives, that is the most satisfying.”