The Northern Negros Natural Park and the logging ban in the 3rd congressional district of Negros Occidental
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
The Visayan DAILY STAR in Bacolod City bannered last week a story on the signing by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of Republic Act No. 9741, which declares a total logging ban in the third congressional district of Negros Occidental. Authored by Rep. Jose Carlos Lacson (Neg. Occ., 3rd district), this law is aimed to protect the remaining forest in Murcia, Talisay, Silay, EB Magalona, and Victorias in Negros Occidental province. While there is no question as to the purity of intention of RA 9741, its application may no longer be of use, especially so that areas covered by its declaration are already within the Northern Negros Natural Park. I could also remember that there was a separate law that declared Barangay Patag in Silay City as a tourism site, but it has never been seriously considered in the development of the area.
The NNNP is already a component of the Philippines’ National Integrated Protected Areas System, as enunciated in RA 7586, or the NIPAS Act. As such, logging and other destructive activities are already prohibited in the site. However, as required under the NIPAS Act, a site specific law shall be passed by the Congress for NNNP, so that it will become a final component of the NIPAS. In fact, there is already a pending bill in the Congress for the final declaration of NNNP. While I would like to commend Congressman Lacson for his desire and effort to protect the remaining forest in his district, it would have been a great initiative if he instead authored a law for the entire NNNP, including the establishment of a local management system that will provide local stakeholders with more authority and accountability over the protected area.
But just the same, RA 9741 is probably the first of its kind inasmuch that the total logging ban in the Philippines is a highly debated issue in the Congress. Two schools of thought on forest management are being considered for legislation in the Congress. The first is the imposition of total commercial logging ban in the entire country, and the other is the adoption of selective logging measures. Through the years, however, the issue on logging remains a deadlock in Congress, and we just have to contend with the antiquated Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines, or Presidential Decree 705, as the main policy framework on forestry. PD 705 is already an outdated law since its applications are no longer relevant today, because it was approved more than 30 years ago and much of the forests in the Philippines are already gone.
The protection of the Northern Negros Natural Park is of paramount importance for the sustainable development of Negros Occidental. The NNNP accounts for the largest intact remaining forests in Negros Island with surviving lowland forest. Most of the forests in Negros are already confined in a much higher elevation, and much of the lowland forests have been wiped out by the logging industry, and later on converted into “kaingin” and other land uses. It is therefore necessary that all measures shall be explored to protect the remaining forest of NNNP, which also serves as a critical watershed of surrounding cities and municipalities.
I would like to consider the context of RA 9741 as a measure to highlight the urgency and needs of protecting the forest not only in the third congressional district of Negros Occidental, but in the entire NNNP. It should be noted that illegal forest activities continue to prevail in some areas of the protected area, and if not totally curtailed, this will surely jeopardize its value in terms of biological diversity conservation. Given that the NNNP is still a valuable source of timber for domestic and commercial uses, the protection of its remaining forest is a critical management issue.
The remaining forest of NNNP also serves as the refuge and stronghold of several endemic species that are already highly threatened with extinction in the wild. Some of these species are endemic only in Negros Island and in Negros-Panay Bio-Geographic Zone. The effective management of NNNP is crucial for the survival of these species. . http://www.visayandailystar.com)*
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