Foreseeing a sustainable Philippines: DLSU-UniLaSalle student symposium

In partnership with the Institut Polytechnique UniLaSalle, the Department of Chemistry organized the first face-to-face DLSU-UniLaSalle student symposium last November 29 to 30 at Y509, Yuchengco Hall. With the theme One Earth, One Family: Co-Creating a Sustainable Legacy, the symposium tackled various environmental issues afflicting the Philippines. 

Guided by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), DLSU and UniLaSalle students joined hands in solving these challenges. Each presenter had 20 minutes to deliver their research. Their work was evaluated by a panel of judges consisting of Eric Punzalan, DLSU associate professor; Aldrin Bonto, DLSU associate professorial lecturer; Emmanuel Garcia, director of the DLSU Food and Water Institute; and Francis Dela Rosa, a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow at the University of Zagreb.

First organized by UniLaSalle in 2019, the joint symposium was initially held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the return of in-person events, the French university hoped that the symposium would facilitate the exchange of ideas between schools, promote cultural awareness among students, and highlight the importance of an inclusive learning environment.

Unraveling the extremities

The symposium kickstarted with the talk “Microplastics and Waste Segregation: What is the connection?” It explored the factors behind the rise of microplastics in the Philippines, including the country’s improper waste management system and “toothless” environmental policies. It also unveiled the problems within the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, which puts the burden of reducing waste on local government units.

This was followed by the presentation “Navigating Troubled Waters: Unraveling the Crisis of Overfishing in Batangas and Addressing Unregulated Zones (75% Overfished),” which investigated the plight of fishermen in Nasugbu, Batangas. The fishing grounds in the area were closed down for three months to prevent overfishing. However, this policy took away fishermen’s source of income. 

To address this issue, Louis Mangematin of UniLaSalle, Mary Blanche Dauz (III, BS-CHY), and Nicolas Nepomuceno (III, BS-CHY) called for the creation of reef buds and coral gardening to help in reef restoration and the proliferation of fish populations. These practices would also create alternative sources of livelihood for fishermen during seasonal closures. 

Afterward, the presentation Relaxing in Sustainability: A Dive into the Challenges of Tourism” explored the benefits and drawbacks of the tourism industry in the country. The students unraveled that the industry has contributed to plastic and water pollution. Nevertheless, the success of the Whale Shark Ecotourism in Donsol, Sorsogon, which boosted the city’s economy without impacting the environment, paved the way for the possibility of sustainable tourism.

To cap off the day, Aithzu Gutierrez (III, BS-CHY) and Mia Merino (IV, BS-CHYB) explained how modern consumerism has shaped the fishing industry in “Reeling in Change: A Call for Closed Season Fishing in the Fight Against Consumerism.” They reasoned that the Philippines’ high demand for seafood has caused suppliers to commit overfishing, altering the ocean’s pH level to be more acidic and decreasing fish populations. 

While marine reserves can protect these species, they are not enough to overturn the situation. Therefore, Gutierrez and Merino recommended strictly imposing a closed-season fishing ban so certain types of fish can repopulate. Specific marine species would be excluded from the ban, solving fishermen’s livelihood plight. 

Charting a way forward

On the second day of the symposium, the presenters emphasized the global nature of environmental issues. As human activities continue to deplete natural resources, destroying habitats and warming the planet at a rapid rate, environmental protection has become the development strategy of many governments worldwide. 

The Brazilian government, for instance, has plans to reduce their country’s nitrogen and phosphorus emissions while still meeting the food, energy, and housing needs of their growing population. Their situation was further analyzed by Marie Levassaur of UniLaSalle in her talk “Wastewater management in Latin America.” She explained how their farms can be redesigned to operate profitably despite using less phosphorus and nitrogen-based products.

Meanwhile, Claire-Marie Cossé of UniLaSalle described the contaminated rivers of Papua New Guinea. In her report “Cyanide pollution downstream of the Watnut and Markham rivers,” she explained how cyanide leaching—a method used by mining companies to extract gold—polluted the country’s rivers.

Other UniLaSalle students like Mangematin, Lison Binet, Mathilde Desombre, and Michelle Kharrat also explored how land use can affect water quality. Binet shared that her university wanted to spotlight the sixth SDG: clean water and sanitation for all. Through this symposium, she hoped that they could raise awareness of these issues and “find solutions that can be adapted to the local context.”

Another problem covered in the symposium was plastic pollution. In “A Wave of Change: Navigating Ocean Cleanup Initiatives and Using the Interceptor Plastic Collector as a Potential Solution to Ocean Plastic Solution,” speakers from DLSU and UniLaSalle showcased different strategies that local and national governments can implement to manage plastic waste.

This was followed by the talk “The Fight Against Commercial-Use Plastics: A Call to Action,” which analyzed the impact of single-use plastics like plastic bags, styrofoam, and plastic utensils. To minimize the damage caused by these products, the speakers urged the audience to switch to biodegradable materials.

Lastly, “Plastic Waste Management in the Philippines” explored the social impact of plastic waste by showcasing the day-to-day lives of garbage collectors and street sweepers. It also illustrated how eco-friendly practices like recycling can be used to create more jobs for Filipinos.

The path to sustainability

Despite all the promising solutions presented in the symposium, the true challenge lies in uniting Filipinos to create a sustainable Philippines. In its path, the Philippines still falls short in implementing laws to protect the environment. Punzalan also pointed out how corruption could render these laws and interventions ineffective. 

To bring more attention to these issues, Punzalan said that the presenters’ research papers will be compiled and published in an upcoming book. With its success, he also hoped for a continued partnership between DLSU and UniLaSalle.

Bret Cornelia

By Bret Cornelia

Amanda Palmera

By Amanda Palmera

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