UP alumni scientists and lawyer grace tawilis summit

| Written by Jo. Florendo B. Lontoc

Philippine Society for Freshwater Science President and UP Diliman Professor Francis Magbanua (extreme left) awards certificates of recognition to NAST Academician Mudjeweekis Santos and Dr. Maria Theresa Mutia, both of NFRDI; Prof. Alicia Ely Pagulayan of UST; and Dr. Jonas Quilang of UPD, all UP alumni scientists, for contributing their latest research at the Tawilis Summit 2019 and sharing a common passion for Taal Lake and its threatened ecosystem. Photo by Jo. Lontoc, UP MPRO


UP alumni scientists continue to lead research and provide data on saving Philippine freshwater ecosystems such as that which supports the tawilis, recently declared an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

For example, key resource speakers in the Tawilis Summit 2019 were: UP alumni scientists, Dr. Mudjekeewis Santos and Dr. Maria Theresa Mutia, who graduated from UP Baguio and UP Los Baños, respectively, and are now with the National Fisheries Research and Development Institute; Dr. Jonas Quilang of the UP Diliman Institute of Biology; and, UP Diliman alumna Dr. Alicia Ely Pagulayan, now with the University of Santo Tomas.

Hosted by the University of Santo Tomas, the summit was an immediate multisectoral response led by scientists to the IUCN red-listing of a Philippine endemic. It was held in the Buenaventura Garcia Paredes, OP Building, España, Manila on February 19, 2019.


Dr. Rey Donne Papa of the UST Department of Biological Sciences, the host of the summit, traces his interest in Taal Lake before delivering a presentation on the latest limno-ecological findings in the lake. Photo by Jo. Lontoc, UP MPRO


Saving the tawilis, found only in Taal Lake, has long been a rallying cry of freshwater scientists who advocate sustainable management and conservation of all Philippine freshwater bodies and their ecologies. As early as 2000, scientists such as Prof. Augustus Mamaril of the UP Diliman Institute of Biology had been raising red flags on the tawilis, with Mamaril even proposing its translocation to another Philippine freshwater body.

Spearheaded by the recently launched Philippine Society for Freshwater Sciences, led by its interim president, Dr. Francis Magbanua also of the UP Diliman Institute of Biology, the recent tawilis summit was able to gather a sizeable number of government and non-government scientists and research staff, students, administrators, local government executives including two town mayors, and fishing and aquaculture organizations in the Taal Volcano Protected Landscape (TVPL).


DENR Region IV Director Maria Paz Luna stresses scientific and consultative management: “There is nothing like speaking with the scientists directly. Without them helping us in the management plan, the status of Taal Lake would have been worse.” Photo by Jo. Lontoc, UP MPRO


UP Diliman alumna, Atty. Maria Paz Luna, currently chief of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Region IV-A and of the multi-sectoral management of the TVPL, was present in the summit to get the latest scientific research and recommendations from the scientists and other stakeholders.

Luna gave an update on the TVPL management plan and her own recommendations to strengthen management and conservation initiatives in TVPL, including more research, which she found relatively lacking. She also joined roundtable discussions with stakeholder representatives.


NAST Academician and NFRDI’s Mudjekeewis Santos reiterates the science behind the findings of dwindling tawilis populations contributing to its red-listing by the IUCN. Looking on is the round-table discussion moderator and freshwater scientist, Dr. Roberto Pagulayan, former director of the UP Institute of Biology and now with the Angeles University Foundation.


Santos, Academician of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) and principal author of the assessment behind the inclusion of the tawilis in the IUCN Red List, talked about the rigorous and pro-active process of having a species classified for IUCN categories. Mutia, whose body of work dominated the scientific literature cited for the IUCN red-listing, discussed the latest tawilis fishery reserves and spawning grounds. Dr. Quilang, also author of IUCN assessment, presented the phylogeny of tawilis, making it a unique and fascinating species of Sardinella.


PSFS President Francis Magbanua notes an emerging consensus of scientists on the close season for tawilis fishing, and expresses continuing scientific enthusiasm to ascertain the causes of dwindling tawilis population, in a round-table discussion. Photo by Jo. Lontoc, UP MPRO


The summit was also highlighted by updates from UST on limno-ecological or ecosystem studies on Taal Lake presented by Dr. Rey Donne Papa, revealing a multitude of unique life forms and phenomena. A presentation on another UST study on the reproductive biology of tawilis was delivered by Dr. Pagulayan.

At the end of the summit, PSFS, through Magbanua, supported and conferred scientific soundness on: the decision of the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) of the DENR to impose a “close season” in March and April; the implementation of a recommended mesh-size for fishing; and, the establishment of sanctuaries. It also agreed with environment managers who called for the participation of local government units and fisherfolk organizations in a multi-sectoral enforcement of regulations, including those on aquaculture practices.


Agoncillo, Batangas Mayor Daniel Reyes raises a question for scientists, as Balete, Batangas Mayor Wilson Maralit looks on. Photo by Jo. Lontoc, UP MPRO


An open forum provides an opportunity for a representative of the Taal Lake aquaculture industry to raise their concerns and contribute their local knowledge in the scientific discussions. Photo by Jo. Lontoc, UP MPRO


PSFS also asked for regular, long-term monitoring of the lake by NFRDI and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in terms of “catch per unit effort” and water quality for yearly assessment of the effectiveness of management initiatives.

Magbanua said the society is planning a program to involve more higher educational institutions and to harness its honorary members in getting the tawilis off the IUCN red list by utilizing their multidisciplinary expertise.


The participants and organizers of Tawilis Summit 2019, after the closing ceremony, February 19, 2019 in the Dr. Robert C. Sy Grand Ballroom, Buenaventura Garcia Paredes, O.P. Building, University of Santo Tomas, España, Manila.