The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is ready to accept applications for Special-Use Agreement in Protected Areas (Sapa) after Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu recently announced the lifting of the moratorium that stopped the awarding of tenurial instruments in protected areas.
The scheme was suspended in 2011 by then-Environment Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje, according to DENR officials, because it failed to generate revenue and improve protected area management.
Essentially, Sapa promotes public-private partnership (PPP) through environment-friendly business ventures like ecotourism to boost the protection and conservation of the country’s rich biodiversity.
The lifting of the moratorium came after Cimatu signed an order last month that will ensure the proper determination, assessment and collection of fees for Sapa starting this year.
Department Administrative Order (DAO) 2018-05, an addendum to the rules and regulations for the special uses in protected areas under DAO 2007-17, provides a standard for computation for development fees.
Under the new guidelines, development fees will be imposed based on the fixed percentage of the zonal value of the land and improvements on the area.
The fees will be equivalent to 5 percent of the most recent zonal value of the commercial zone in the nearest municipality where the project is located, multiplied by the area to be developed plus 1 percent of the value of improvement as a premium to the protected area.
Cimatu’s decision, however, triggered howls of protests. Environmental groups expressed concern over its potential adverse impact within protected areas.
The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said it will open the floodgates to investments that may eventually lead to destructive development projects within a protected area or areas set aside for conservation.
Similarly, Greenpeace Southeast Asia-Philippines issued a statement warning against the opening of protected areas to exploitation.
A protected area, under Republic Act 7586, or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (Nipas) Act, is defined as “identified portions of land and water set aside by reason of their unique physical and biological significance, managed to enhance biological diversity and protected against destructive human exploitation.”
What is Sapa?
On July 26, 2007, then-Environment Secretary Angelo T. Reyes signed DAO 2007-17, providing for the guidelines for special uses within protected areas.
It is a tenurial instrument awarded by the DENR to a development partner allowing special uses of portions of a protected area.
Through Sapa, the DENR is able to impose “user’s fee” from which it generates much-needed revenues.
Among Sapa’s objectives are to provide access and economic opportunities to indigenous peoples, tenured migrant communities and other stakeholders of protected areas in order to help reduce poverty incidence and earn revenues for the sustainability of protected areas management.
Anchored on the state policy to promote biodiversity conservation and sustainable development in protected areas to maintain ecological processes and life support systems, Sapa aims to encourage their effective management by fostering cooperation between and among stakeholders to manage and develop appropriate zones within a protected area.
Scope and coverage
Under DAO 2007-17, a Sapa can only be issued in protected areas, except those categorized as strict nature reserve, or an area possessing some outstanding ecosystem, features and/or species of flora and fauna of national scientific importance. It shall be confined only to the management zones of the protected area appropriate for the purpose.
Sapa, hence, requires that a protected area must first have identified and delineated management zones.
Special uses within a protected area that may be allowed subject to an approved environmental compliance certificate are: ecotourism facilities, campsites, communication facilities, transmission lines, irrigation canals or waterways, right-of-way such for transmission lines and communication facilities, aquaculture, scientific monitoring stations, agroforestry and forest plantations.
A Sapa may have a maximum term of 25 years and may be renewed subject to review and approval of the DENR secretary upon the recommendation of the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB).
The Nipas Act promotes the establishment of a protected area as a measure to protect and conserve the country’s rich biodiversity against unbridled development and destructive human activities.
Only limited development projects and human activities are allowed within protected areas to minimize, if not totally eliminate, the adverse impact on the area’s ecosystem and the plant and animal wildlife that thrive there.
A declared protected area gets special protection from the DENR through regular monitoring of human activities.
It may be categorized as a strict natural reserve, natural park, natural monument, wildlife sanctuary, protected landscapes and seascapes, resource reserves, natural biotic area and other areas established by law, conventions or international agreements to which the Philippine government is a signatory.
Home to threatened species
Protected areas are established to protect and conserve certain areas because they are habitats of threatened plant and animal wildlife and are essential for their survival and of nearby ecosystems.
Some of the country’s protected areas are known as key biodiversity areas and are home to threatened species of flora and fauna, unique species of plant and animals that can only be found in the Philippines and driven to the brink of extinction, or keystone species in which the ecosystem largely depend.
According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Philippines is one of the 18 megadiverse countries in the world. It possesses two-thirds of the Earth’s biodiversity and between 70 percent and 80 percent of the world’s plant and animal species. The Philippines ranks fifth in the number of plant species and maintains 5 percent of the world’s flora, it added.
The Philippines, however, is one of the world’s biodiversity hot spots because of the rapid rate of biodiversity loss caused by numerous factors. This includes habitat loss caused by massive destruction of forests, including logging, quarrying and mining; massive land conversion for food production and human settlement and human encroachment of wildlife habitats; illegal wildlife trade and hunting for trophy and sports in the case of critically endangered animal species; pollution; and proliferation of invasive alien species.
There are currently 240 protected areas in the Philippines covering over 5 million hectares of forestland. Of the 240 protected areas, however, only 13 are backed by legislation while the rest are covered by presidential proclamations, presidential decrees or executive orders.
Protected areas are managed by representatives from the DENR, other national government agencies like the departments of Tourism and of the Interior and Local Government, National Commission on Indigenous People, local government units, academe, people’s organizations or non-governmental organizations sitting as members of the PAMB.
The PAMB acts as the highest policy-making body that governs the management of a protected area headed by the protected area superintendent, usually a designated official of the DENR.
Wanted: Development partners
Because of its limited financial resources and capacity to rehabilitate and develop protected areas, the DENR encourages investment to generate revenues to boost their operation.
One way of encouraging investment is through Sapa.
Other protected areas are used for the operation of agricultural and agro-industrial and tree plantations.
A 2013 study commissioned by the DENR-Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) revealed that the income from Sapa could increase from a measly P300 million to as much as P500 billion a year.
If properly used, this fund can boost the protection and conservation of the country’s protected areas.
Among the objectives of Sapa include putting a premium to ecosystem services provided by protected areas, such as water supply, which is becoming a limited resource; and generating revenues that can be utilized for improved management and operations of protected areas, thereby reducing the required national subsidy.
Not so fast
The decision to lift the suspension of Sapa, however, failed to generate the anticipated excitement.
Pamalakaya National Chairman Fernando Hicap said lifting the suspension of the Sapa is, in fact, anti-environment as it will open the floodgates for the destruction of the country’s pristine protected areas.
Hicap added certain corporate activities are known to cause an environmental disaster.
For his part, Greenpeace political campaigner Vince Cinches, in an interview on May 16 and 17, said lifting the moratorium on the issuance of special permits will neither protect nor lift people from poverty, but rather expose indigenous peoples to further abuse and oppression.
He lamented that there is no general management planning strategy for the use of the country’s protected areas, which is required by the DAO 2008-26(2).
“If the budget is the problem [in managing protected areas], I think it’s important for the DENR to request for a bigger budget allocation from the national coffers, instead of opening protected areas to generate money, which is very unsustainable, as it will destroy and deplete resources. May they be reminded that the objective of Nipas is consistent with the Philippine Constitution to our right for a healthy and balanced ecology, any action to the the contrary, should not be allowed,” Hicap added.
In defense of Cimatu
Taking the cudgels for Cimatu up a former DENR official who pushed for the updating of the Sapa guideline said the strict implementation of the policy, including the new guideline that will impose higher fees on businesses operating within a protected area, would encourage serious pro-environment investors and will weed out businesses that are only after profit.
Asean Centre for Biodiversity Executive Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim said Cimatu’s decision to lift the moratorium on Sapa would allow the government to generate the much-needed revenues, which can boost protected-area management in the country, citing a 2013 study on the enormous economic potential of adjusting the “user fees” under Sapa.
Lim said protected-area management depends largely on the political will to enforce environmental laws and the policies that are put in place to enhance its protection and conservation.
According to Lim, investment in protected area per se is not bad, as long as it can be considered as “a sustainable investment” and one that’s anchored on sustainability.
“We are looking at sustainable investment. That is why the fees will be higher. In many protected areas, there are existing businesses already,” she said.
She insisted that the businesses are not paying enough, especially because they are in an area that is supposed to have high premium being a protected area.
“This [Sapa and the higher user fee] is a market-based deterrent. If the user fee is higher, only a few businesses with the capacity to invest and do the right thing will be able to cope with the challenge,” she said.
She noted that the user’s fee generated from Sapa would go to the Integrated Protected Areas Fund, which will be used in the sustainable development, protection and conservation of protected areas.
“What is important is that we ensure enforcement. If a business establishment is not able to pay the premium under Sapa, we should have the political will to evict it. It should be a deterrent to those who only want to make a profit without setting aside investment for protection and conservation,” she said.
According to Lim, compared to other tenurial instruments which large corporations are currently enjoying, Sapa imposes higher user fees.
In fact, owners of business establishments within protected areas, such as in Davao, are complaining against the potential increase in user fees which is a lot bigger than the amount they are paying.
Besides mountain resorts, many areas within Mount Apo Natural Park in Davao are being used as banana plantations. With the new Sapa user’s fee, these businesses will now have to pay higher fees.
Other protected areas like the Bataan National Park and Northern Negros Natural Park also have numerous business establishments that will now be charged with higher user fees because of Sapa.
According to Crisanta Marlene Rodriguez, the environmental safeguards under Nipas Act are not diminished by Sapa.
“The revised guidelines increased the fees dramatically. Sapa was suspended because the revenue being generated was not enough,” she said.
According to Rodriguez, the strict guidelines on protected-area management remains the same, noting that strict protection zones are still “off-limits” to development projects.
“We still have all the safety nets in place. The PAMB will still screen the projects in protected areas,” she said.
She added the DENR-BMB maintains its administrative oversight over protected areas and will not allow their destruction in the name of profit.