Strengthening the management of protected areas in Philippines

In Photo: oriental wrasse are known to inhabit coral reefs with abundant invertebrates, which they feed on.

Biodiversity conservation government officials and experts welcomed President Duterte’s signing into law on June 22 the Republic Act 11038, or the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (E-Nipas) Act.

The law amends the previous version of the law, Republic Act 7586, or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (Nipas), which promotes and strengthens the management of protected areas in the Philippines, and to protect and conserve the country’s rich biodiversity against various threats.

As the title suggests, E-Nipas expands the areas covered and the number of protected areas and national parks declared as mandated by legislations or laws, on top of imposing a stricter penalty and higher fines against violators of the law.

Stronger protection

There are 240 protected areas under Nipas but only 13 are backed by laws, while the rest is covered by presidential proclamations or executive orders, which are considered only as initial components and may be disestablished by the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) upon the recommendation of the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), the highest policy-making body of a protected area.

The E-Nipas law increases the number of protected areas from 13 to 107 that cannot be disestablished without act of Congress. A protected area that was established by a law can only be disestablished by another law. Hence, it is given stronger protection against potentially destructive development projects like mining, quarrying, logging, or the establishment of an agricultural and agroforestry plantation that has besieged some protected areas, such as those in Palawan province.

Officials of the Department of DENR hailed the signing of the law, saying that it enhances the protection of the country’s key biodiversity areas, including its threatened plants and animal wildlife, some of which are endemic to the Philippines.

Moreover, in the face of climate change’s biggest threats, protecting and conserving the country’s natural defense against calamities, they added, enhances the community’s chances of survival especially in areas that are prone to disasters.

Expanded coverage

Environment Undersecretary, for Policy, Planning and International Affairs and the concurrent Spokesman of Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu Jonas R. Leones told the BusinessMirror in a telephone interview on July 3 that E-Nipas fulfills the Nipas law because it adds more protected areas that are backed with legislation This means expanded coverage in terms of land area, both in the terrestrial and marine territory.

“With this E-Nipas law, we have substantially fulfilled Nipas with the additional protected areas being covered by the law,” he said.

“We expect more funding and stronger protection for these protected areas under E-Nipas.  The law provides for the legal framework for additional funding for their protection,” Leones added.

For her part, Environment Undersecretary Analiza R. Teh, for Climate Change and Mining Concerns, said the signing of the E-Nipas law is “a very welcome development in the country’s fight against climate change and nature conservation.”

Stronger adaptive capacity 

“We preserve the ecosystem and at the same time enhance our adaptive capacity.  With this law, we expect that we will have a more proactive [local government units ] to form the [PAMB] and formulate their respective Protected Area Management Plan,” Teh said.

In a telephone interview on July 3, Teh said that by 2020, she expects increased budget allocation for the 107 protected areas, and also others that are not yet covered or backed with legislation.

Rep. Josephine Ramirez-Sato of Occidental Mindoro, a principal author of the original bill in the House of Representatives, said in a statement that E-Nipas lumps together 94 protected areas with a total land area of 3.5 million hectares, slightly over 10 percent of the country’s total land area of 30 million ha., adding them to the list of legislated protected areas.

The forests are the country’s biggest carbon  sink.  Expanding the country’s forest cover through massive tree planting is a strategy being adopted by the Philippines through the DENR. This aims to reduce its carbon emissions by a whopping 70 percent from 2020 to 2030  as part of its commitment under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

A signatory to various international treaties, including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Philippines’s establishment of protected areas is one of its effective conservation measures to prevent biodiversity loss.

Bigger budget

More important, Ramirez-Sato said the E-Nipas increases the budget for protected areas, from P65 million per year to possibly P535 million, an increase of approximately 823 percent in the annual General Appropriations Act.

This means increased funding for rehabilitation and development, stronger protection against hunting or harvesting of wildlife resources and against potentially destructive development projects in these areas, particularly those that will be declared as strict protection zone, including agricultural and agro-forestry, logging, quarrying and mining activities.

E-Nipas facilitates a broader PAMB composition, ensuring efficient day-to-day operation through the Protected Area Management Office.

Ramirez-Sato added that the enactment of the E-Nipas demonstrates the country’s commitment to strengthen protected area management in the Philippines.

“Truly, the signing of E-Nipas into law is one big step toward sustainability and a greener  tomorrow  for the present and future generation,” Raminez-Sato noted.

For her part, Sen. Cynthia A Villar, who chairs the Senate Committees on Environment and Natural Resources and on Agriculture, looks at the E-Nipas Act as an important legislation to ensure the protection of the country’s diverse natural resources.

“The Philippines’s rich biodiversity is a source of pride and joy for all of us Filipinos. We actively protect and strongly defend the breadth and depth of our territories to ensure that the future generation of Filipinos will still have the opportunity to take pride and find joy in our country’s rich biodiversity,” Villar said in a statement.

Protection of marine resources

Ocean conservation advocacy group Oceana Philippines lauded the timely passage of the E-Nipas Act, on the heels of President Duterte’s recent declaration of Philippine Rise Marine Resource Reserve as the latest protected area in the country.
“We laud the timely passage of the E-Nipas Act. It will enhance the conservation efforts undertaken in our unique but vastly threatened biodiversity and ecosystems, including our marine habitats,” said lawyer Gloria Estenzo Ramos, vice president of Oceana Philippines.

“As the ‘center of the center’ of marine biodiversity in the world, it is high time that our biologically significant protected areas be given the highest priority and protection they deserve, to ensure that our national treasures continue to sustain the current and the future generations of Filipinos,” Ramos added.

She explained that the passage of the E-Nipas Act provides a national legislation for all protected areas to ensure their ecological integrity.

This includes the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape, one of the largest marine protected areas in the Philippines and declared as a protected seascape through a presidential proclamation in 1998.

Salient provisions

Among the salient provisions of the law are scientific and technical support for biodiversity conservation; delineation and demarcation of boundaries; deputation of support, especially on enforcement to the Protected Area Superintendent; and regular reporting on the status of the Integrated Protected Area Fund and allocating 75 percent of all revenues raised to the PAMB, she said.

More important, Ramos said the law prohibits the use and possession of destructive fishing gears within the protected seascape.

The E-Nipas Act also expands the mandates of the Department of Justice to appoint special prosecutors handling cases specifically related to protected areas, and assist in the training of wardens and rangers in arrests and criminal procedures, she added.

Very timely law

Asean Centre for Biodiversity Executive Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim, a former director of the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the DENR, said the signing of E-Nipas Act into law by President Duterte comes at a very opportune time.

“Right now, we are developing here at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity Meeting in Montreal [Canada] recommendations on how to better achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Target 11.  These recommendations shall be put forward eventually as decisions at the CBD Conference of the Parties in Egypt in November. Thus, we are so proud to receive this good news from Manila,” Lim said.

The Aichi Biodiversity Targets were declared during the CBD’s 10th Conference of Parties in Nagoya,  Aichi Prefecture in Japan, in October 2010.

The Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 states that “by 2020, at least 17 percent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes.”

“As chairman of the [Montreal] meeting and as ACB executive director, we are finding ways to highlight this in the Conference by spreading the good news among colleagues in Asean and with partners,” Lim noted.

“Other than the additional 94 national parks, covering about 3 million ha from only 13 previously enacted protected areas of around 800,000 hectares, the law now provides more incentives to protect the protected areas, but also stiffer [penalties] when it comes to violators and exploiters of these high biodiversity areas,” she said.

Lim added that the new law urges local government units within and around the protected areas to mainstream into their plans and programs measures to effectively manage parts of the protected areas within their political jurisdiction.

“It is my hope that with this law, if properly enforced, will enable the Philippines to maximize the benefits of its rich biological diversity, and scale up these efforts, as well as these benefits, at the regional level,” Lim said.

According to Lim, in one document that is being discussed in the CBD meeting, the benefits of protected areas are elaborated: “Protected areas safeguard the biodiversity and ecosystems that underpin the Sustainable Development Goals. Protected areas are especially important in achieving goals related to poverty alleviation, water security, carbon sequestration, climate-change adaptation, economic development and disaster-risk reduction.

“Protected areas are an essential strategy for the emerging field of nature-based solutions to various global challenges, such as water security. They are particularly important as a nature-based solution for climate mitigation and climate adaptation.  Nature provides at least a third of climate solutions if the planet is to stay under 1.5 degrees Celsius, and protected areas are an essential strategy for achieving this goal.”

Image Credits: Oceana/UPLB

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Jonathan L. Mayuga is a journalist for more than 15 years. He is a product of the University of the East – Manila. An awardee of the J. G. Burgos Biotech Journalism Awards, BrightLeaf Agricultural Journalism Awards, Binhi Agricultural Journalism Awards, and Sarihay Environmental Journalism Awards.

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