THE country’s top biodiversity official late last week underscored the need to strengthen the country’s protected-area (PA) system through the enactment of more laws that will cover more areas for protection and conservation.
Despite being the key to the strategic conservation of the country’s rich biodiversity, the management of the country’s PAs receives limited budget for its sustainable development and day-to-day operation.
This is due to the fact that of the 240 PAs, only 13 are backed by legislation, hence by law, protected from destructive activities, including development projects not sanctioned or approved by protected areas management boards (PAMBs), Director Theresa Mundita Lim of the Biodiversity Management Bureau said.
There is no specific budget allocation for development of these PAs, except for the lump-sum appropriation in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’s (DENR) budget for operation divided among the agency’s line and staff bureaus and field offices.
BMB is a line agency of the DENR.
Under the 2016 General Appropriations Act, a budget of P1 billion has been earmarked for PA development program out of the DENR’s P21.8-billion total budget. Another budget item, for wildlife conservation and protection, has been allocated, P72.2 million.
The operation of the PAs partly relies on the revenues generated by the PAs that are remitted to the Integrated Protected Areas Fund (Ipaf), a trust fund for PAs; 75 percent of which is now automatically retained by the PAs by virtue of the Ipaf Automatic Retention Law signed by President Aquino in 2014, but will take effect only this year, with its implementing rules having been approved only last year.
On top of these, under the special provisions for the DENR’s budget, P30 million has been allocated for the PAs, to be charged against the remaining 25 percent of trust fund for the PAs.
The two budget items comprise the DENR’s total budget for the entire PAs and wildlife sector. But these are considered “maintenance budget,” as they are earmarked for personnel services and maintenance and other operating expenses of the agency.
PAs get budgetary support from generous local governments that have jurisdiction over the PAs through the designated PA superintendents or managers; or PAMB, the highest policy-making body of a PA.
However, only 177 of the 240 PAs have established PAMBs.
Most of these PAMBs are understaffed, and most of those employed in the DENR regional, city or municipal offices perform multitasking to cover for the PAs operation.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines a PA as “a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystems services and cultural values.”
According to the IUCN, PAs are at the core efforts toward nature conservation and services they provide, such as food, clean-water supply, medicines and protection from the impacts of natural disasters.
PAs in the Philippines range from large natural parks to landscapes and seascapes, wildlife and marine life sanctuaries and monuments.
They are governed by PAMBs, headed by the DENR’s regional, provincial or city and municipal officers, with governors, city and town local chief executives, other officials or representatives of national government agencies and representatives from non-governmental organizations.
There are many pending bills in the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives seeking to declare or designate certain areas as a PA under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act.
Lim, in particular, supports the passage of the proposed Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act this year, which will strengthen the protection of 100 PAs.
This way, she said at least 100 PAs will get more protection and, hopefully, given priority when it comes to budget allocation.
The proposed measure filed by Sen. Loren Legarda passed the third and final reading in the Senate, but a counterpart bill in the House of Representatives is taking the back seat, stalled at the committee level by debate over the coverage of five PAs in Palawan in the bill.
Lim said the country’s 240 PAs cover around 5 million hectares of forests, which serve as home to thousands of unique, but threatened, wildlife species.
“Once a PA is backed by a legislation, it is expected to receive more protection and budgetary support,” Lim said.
“They will also be protected by law against destructive activities or conversion for other land-use policies,” she said.
Lim added that the operation of the PAs is important in protecting the country’s threatened wildlife species, some of which are considered endangered and critically endangered, or at the brink of extinction.
This requires the hiring of permanent PA personnel and more forest protectors or bantay gubat and bantay dagat, whose job is primarily to protect the PAs and the wildlife that thrives within the areas.
To encourage community support and prevent destructive activities that threaten the integrity of the forest and marine ecosystems, she said upland and coastal communities should be provided with livelihood support.
“Without sources of income and livelihood, the communities will be forced to cut trees and harvest forest products or wildlife,” she said.
Through livelihood programs, she said upland dwellers will not be swayed to engage in destructive activities, such as slash-and-burn farming or kaingin, charcoal making, or worse, illegally cutting trees or harvesting forest products.
Among the country’s critically endangered species and their habitats that are being monitored by the DENR are the Philippine Eagle, the Philippine tamaraw, Philippine crocodiles, Philippine tarsier, marine turtles, dugong and butanding.
Some of the country’s PAs have gained international recognition, being listed either as a United Nations World Heritage Site, Association of Southeast Asian Nations Heritage Park (AHP), or Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat or Ramsar site, which the Philippine government is committed to conserve and protect.
The Asean Centre for Biodiversity, which acts as secretariat of the AHP Program, has called for an increase in the budget allocation for the country’s eight AHPs to boost conservation and protection efforts in these key biodiversity areas.
Indeed true “To encourage community support and prevent destructive activities that threaten the integrity of the forest and marine ecosystems, upland and coastal communities should be provided with livelihood support.
I guess we have to increase the budget allocation for the country’s eight AHPs to boost conservation and protection efforts in these key biodiversity areas.