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House panel approves E-Nipas fund measure on second reading

THE House of Representatives’ Committee on Natural Resources has approved on second reading on Monday a bill seeking to strengthen the management of protected areas (PA) in the Philippines. 

An official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said House Bill 6772, or the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (E-Nipas), aims to institutionalize funding for the management of 94 PAs through the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA).

Rep. Josephine Ramirez-Sato of the Lone District of Occidental Mindoro, a principal author of the consolidated E-Nipas bill, said in an earlier statement that once enacted into law, the proposal will be a big boost to the call for enhanced financing mechanism for the protection and conservation of the country’s rich biodiversity.

Ramirez-Sato, who is championing the Biodiversity Finance Initiative (Biofin), in the Philippines in partnership with the United Nations Development Program, is particularly concerned of the wide financing gap on biodiversity financing.

While there are 240 PAs in the Philippines, only 13 are backed with legislation. The measure, once passed into a law, will ensure increased budget allocation through the GAA, hence, boosting biodiversity-conservation efforts within the country’s PA.

The additional 94 PAs will raise the total land area classified as National Park from the current 800,000 hectares to 3.5 million hectares.

Meanwhile, several important amendments to the bill were subsequently approved by the members of the committee on natural resources, Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim of the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau  told the BusinessMirror in a telephone interview.

Under a proposal introduced by Party-list Rep. Joselito L. Atienza of Buhay, a former DENR secretary, local officials can now be held administratively or criminally liable for failure to implement provisions of E-Nipas.

Another amendment, she said, to fast-track the development of renewable-energy (RE) projects, which will now be allowed within a PA, but outside the strict protection zone, subject to the requirements of the law that imposes an environmental-impact  assessment  for environmentally-critical projects.

“This differentiates it from nonrenewables like coal, which is not allowed within a protected area,” Lim said.

The official lauded the former DENR secretary for being “very passionate” about imposing stricter penalties against erring LGUs.

She said the former DENR chief was “very passionate” about imposing penalties against erring LGUs that he insisted on the body to ensure that disciplinary actions are meted out to erring local officials.

“Perhaps, because of his experience when he was theDENR secretary, wherein some local officials who sit as members of the Protected Area Management Board are the ones violating the protected area law and he feels that it’s because they are not made accountable,” she said.

According to Lim, the current Nipas law was not explicit on local government units’ responsibility. “That’s why he really insisted  administrative and even criminal liability for LGUs that will enforce E-Nipas,” she added.

The amendment to E-Nipas, Lim said, is a welcome development.

“On the LGU accountability, we are particularly happy about it. We know it was a problem but could be too politically sensitive to push for. [Rep.] Atienza really raised it very forcefully and he said he will not allow if there will be no provision on LGU criminal liability,” she said.

On the proposed amendment to allow RE projects within a PA, Lim said it will differentiate how renewables are treated compared now to nonrenewable-energy projects.

Last, a proposed amendment to the bill respects existing occupation of LGUs within a PA, which, Lim said, is acceptable, noting that there are safeguards in place that in the development of an LGU’s Comprehensive Land Use Plans, due consideration shall be given to biodiversity conservation.

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