How rich is the Philippines?

by Rolando A. Inciong

The United States, Japan, China, Germany, England, France and Russia are the world’s military and economic superpowers. Would you believe that the Philippines is also a superpower? Yes, our country is a superpower with its rich and abundant natural resources, specifically biodiversity (biological diversity or the variety of plants, bird, fish and animal species). Yes, a tiny country like the Philippines possesses the world’s richest biodiversity.


Biodiversity encompasses all life on Earth, from the smallest insect to the biggest whale. Biodiversity is the “web of life” that includes various ecosystems, the species living in them, and the genetic variety of those species produced by nature or shaped by humans.


The Philippines and the nine other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are widely recognized as a treasure trove of biodiversity. The ASEAN region occupies only three percent of the Earth’s total surface but its mountains, forest, rivers and oceans are home to over 20 percent of all known plant, animal and marine species.


Records of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) reveal that the Philippines has more than 9,000 plant species; over 6,000 are endemic, meaning they can only be found in the Philippines. Some 70 percent of the country’s nearly 21,000 recorded insect species are endemic. About one-third of the 915 butterfly species in the Philippines are endemic, and 110 of the country’s more than 130 species of tiger beetle are found nowhere else.


The ASEAN Biodiversity Outlook 1, a publication of the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, says that 500 of the world’s 700 coral species are found under the waters of the Philippines, which is a part of the Coral Triangle in the Pacific.


There are at least 50 known seahorse species in the world. They inhabit temperate and tropical waters but most of them are concentrated in the warm coastal waters of the Philippines. The DENR reports that at least 47 nations and territories around the world are involved in buying and selling seahorses. The largest known importers are China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Among the largest exporters is the Philippines.
The world’s smallest commercial fish: Sinarapan (Mistichthys luzonensis) can be found only in Lakes Bato and Buhi in Camarines Sur. Sinarapan grows to an average length of 1.25 centimeters, only slightly longer than the dwarf goby.


Donsol, a fishing town in Sorsogon, serves as a sanctuary to whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), which are considered as the largest fish in the world. Locally known as “butanding”, they travel across the oceans but nowhere else have they been sighted in a larger group than in the waters of Sorsogon.


Dugongs or sea cows can be found in Busuanga and Culion in Palawan. Sea cows, the only herbivorous among marine mammals, can live more than 70 years.


The DENR added that in South of Palawan lies the Balabac Island, home of the world’s smallest hoofed mammal – the Philippine mouse deer. Locally known as Pilandok (Tragalus nigricans), this ruminant stands only about 40 centimeters at the shoulder level.  1996.


The tamaraw, a unique pygmy water buffalo (Bubalus mindorensis) endemic to Mindoro, is listed as one of the ten most endangered species in the world. From 10,000 heads in the 1900’s, population went down to 369 heads in the late 1980’s to as few as 20 heads roaming in the wild today.


One of the world’s rarest mammals lives in the dwindling forest of Panay Island: the Philippine spotted deer (Cervus alfredi), considered by many as the most endangered deer in the planet.


The Philippines is home to some of the world’s most exotic birds. Scientists have documented 577 bird species around the Philippine archipelago. Of this number, 185 species are endemic to the country. The Bird Life International listed 116 of them as “threatened” or “near-threatened”. 


An example is the monkey-eating eagle living in the rainforests of Isabela, Samar, Leyte and Mindanao. It has similarities with Papua New Guinea’s Harpy Eagle (Harpyopsis novaeguinea). The eagle lives on large snakes, hornbills, civet cats, flying lemurs and monkeys – the reason why it is also called monkey-eating eagle.


Tridacna gigas, one of the world’s largest shells can be found under Philippine waters. The shell grows as large as one meter in length and weighs 600 pounds. A shell called glory of the sea (Connus gloriamaris) is also found in the Philippines and considered as one of the most expensive shells in the world.
Now, are you convinced that the Philippines is super rich?


Our Columnist Returns to Front Page. Rolando A. Inciong, an environmental advocate and a communication expert, returns to Front Page. His environmental advocacy started when he served as Communication Specialist with the United States Agency for International Development’s Environmental Cooperation Program for Asia and, later, as Director for Communication and Public Affairs of the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity where he retired in 2016. He is currently Vice President and Member of the Board of Directors of the Academia de Ignacio de Loyola. He is a freelance consultant and mentor in development communication, human resource management, and corporate communication.


Rolly has carried out his passion for nature through his civic work with the Batangas Forum for Good Governance and Development Association, Inc. as a Member of the Board of Trustees and Secretary; the Apex Club of San Pablo City, the Rotary Club of San Pablo City Central, and with the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) in San Pablo City, where he is a co-founder and Past President.


As a communicator, he was among the first graduates of B.S. Development Communication in the Philippines and was a recipient of the Most Outstanding Alumnus Award from the College of Development Communication, UP Los Banos. He studied peace journalism at the University of Sydney. Inciong’s column, entitled THE WEB OF LIFE, will appear twice a month and will focus on biodiversity and environmental conservation, climate change, business and environment, and sustainable development.