MAKATI, Philippines, May 16, 2024 – The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Energy (DOE) reached an understanding today with First Gen Corporation (First Gen) and ABS-CBN Foundation, Inc. (AFI) to harmonize efforts in the protection of the Verde Island Passage (VIP).  

Top officials from DENR, DOE, First Gen, and AFI signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to collaborate on conservation programs for the VIP. The agreement also emphasizes working with concerned local government units, non-government organizations, the academe, international development agencies, coastal communities, people’s organizations and other private entities.

Photo Courtesy: DENR; (From L to R): Federico Lopez, Chairman and CEO, First Gen Corporation; Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga, Secretary, Department of Environment and Natural Resources; Raphael Lotilla, Secretary, Department of Energy; Roberta Lopez-Feliciano, Managing Director, ABS-CBN Foundation, Inc.

First Gen, the country’s largest provider of clean and renewable energy with strong environmental and climate change advocacy, co-pioneered conservation and protection of the VIP’s fragile marine ecosystem through the Project Center of Center (Project COC). 

“We are united in our goal to protect and conserve the world’s most biodiverse marine ecosystems while balancing this with our country’s needs for energy to fuel our continued economic development. This MOU aims to align and amplify public-private collaboration, ensuring that all our efforts are guided by a common framework for joint stewardship and sustainable development,” said DENR Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga. 

Project COC’s formation followed the release of an extensive study in 2004 that identified VIP as the “the center of the center of marine shore fish biodiversity” with the highest concentration of diverse marine species on the planet. The same study warned that the marine ecosystem in the passage faced degradation from destructive fishing methods, rapid industrialization, and other problems. 

“Batangas is where we pioneered natural gas energy generation in the Philippines. It was and still is incumbent upon us to do all we can to make sure our presence is not just benign but enhancing to the environment, as is our mission in the Lopez Group to forge collaborative pathways for a decarbonized and regenerative future. As Project COC steward, we are optimistic that closer cooperation with the DENR and the DOE will better protect coastal areas and sustain present and future generations,” explained Federico Lopez, chairman and CEO of First Gen and parent firm First Philippine Holdings Corporation. 

The VIP, spanning Batangas, Marinduque, Romblon, Oriental, and Occidental Mindoro, is a hub for commercial vessels and ferries, supports fishing and ecotourism, and hosts industrial complexes along its shoreline. 

“Through collaboration among stakeholders, we can find win-win solutions to protect the Verde Island Passage while ensuring that our people have access to reliable and resilient energy supply as we ramp-up our transition to clean, sustainable power,” added Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla. 

For the past 20 years, Project COC has helped conserve marine protected areas in Batangas with organizations like AFI. For its part, AFI, through its Science, Education and Advocacy Institute (SEA VIP), promotes the protection of the VIP through science-based conservation for the benefit of the reefs and local communities. It coordinates research, educational outreach and provides critical information to policymakers and local government officials. 

“The most important people involved in all of this, are those who live by the coastlines of the VIP. They’re the ones who are most invested in protecting it, they are the ones most affected because their main source of livelihood is from it. We need to show these coastline communities what is beneath the surface, so they see how rich they truly are, and they understand this is as much theirs to have but also to protect,” expressed Roberta Lopez-Feliciano, Managing Director of the ABS-CBN Foundation. 

The MOU with the Lopez-led organizations, which covers a five-year period with the option for extension, was inked in parallel to on-going efforts to legally declare the VIP as a protected area under the Republic Act 7586, or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act.


ABS-CBN Foundation, Inc. is a committed advocate for public service in strategic sectors of Philippine society. A media-backed non-profit organization in the Philippines, the Foundation’s pillar programs are community, family, and child welfare; disaster preparedness; environmental management; income, livelihood, and employment development. It aims to awaken hope and the spirit of “bayanihan” in every Filipino by implementing projects that promote multi-sectoral partnerships. ABS-CBN Foundation is accredited by the Philippine Council for NGO Certification (PCNC) and is granted the status of Donee Institution by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR). The Foundation also has a license to operate from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).