The Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) still needs about PHP122 million to complete the construction of an offshore station that will house rangers tasked with protecting the more than 97,000-hectare Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) located in the Sulu Sea.
In a telephone interview on Monday, Angelique Songco, protected area superintendent at the TMO, said the ranger station’s ongoing construction is grinding to a halt because funds are being quickly depleted.
“The onus to find money (to complete the project) rests with us (TMO). The new station is actually made up of three separate structures – the rangers’ living quarters, a research facility, and a helipad,” she said.
Songco said the construction began as early as 2020, as a replacement for an ageing “structurally questionable” ranger station battered and weakened by numerous typhoons.
However, progress has been slow, and its completion date remains uncertain because of funding issues.
Songco said that “Phase I” of the project was completed, thanks to PHP40 million supplied by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and another PHP40 million by the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), a Department of Tourism- (DOT) attached agency.
The project’s “Phase II” is currently being funded by the PHP58.2 million paid by the United States government to the Philippine government as compensation for the damage incurred due to the grounding of the USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef in 2013.
Songco said about half the budget is being spent on transporting the materials from Puerto Princesa to the construction site in the middle of the ocean.
While waiting for the new station’s completion, Tubbataha Reefs park rangers are still serving their two-month tours of duty at the nearby old ranger station, a 28-year-old structure that has been condemned after a recent storm washed away part of its flooring.
Songco noted that two patrol boats are on standby to take the rangers back to Puerto Princesa in case the old station gives way before the new and modern ranger station is ready for occupation.
It was further explained that the new ranger station will also serve as an ocean outpost for Philippine Navy (PN) and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel, thus, giving the facility national security significance.
The old ranger station is currently still being occupied by four park rangers, two technicians from the TMO, and about just as many PN and PCG personnel.
Meanwhile, Palawan provincial information officer Christian Jay Cojamco said “the provincial government is committed to supporting the TMO, and addressing its needs to preserve the health and safety of this vital area.”
He added that Governor Dennis Socrates has provided the Provincial Engineering Office, which is undertaking the station’s construction, with material resources and other support needed to complete the project.
Cojamco stressed that the establishment of a ranger station in the middle of the ocean is an important step to preserve the Tubbataha Reef system, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its biodiversity and unspoiled beauty.
Tubbataha is located at the heart of the Coral Triangle, touted as the global center of marine biodiversity, and boasting 75 percent of coral species and 40 percent of the world’s fish species within its waters.
TRNP is a 97,030-hectare Marine Protected Area located 150 kilometers southeast of Puerto Princesa City. (PNA)