Prioritizing environment and natural resources management in governance
1ST of two parts
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
On mid-day this coming Wednesday, June 30, 2010, not only the Philippines but probably the whole world will witness the historic inauguration of Benigno Simeon “Nonoy” Aquino III, as the 15th President of the Republic of the Philippines. Vice-President elect, Jejomar “Jojo” Binay, will similarly take his oath of office. All other elected officials during the first automated elections in the country last May 10, 2010 will formally assume the different levels of governance comes July 1. I am particularly interested on what policy agenda and priority programs the Aquino administration will pursue as far as the environment and natural resources management of the Philippines.
The appointment of the next Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is crucial to determine where the new leadership is heading to on environmental governance. Reports say that the incumbent DENR Secretary, Horacio Ramos, stays for a year and after which defeated senatorial aspirant, Neric Acosta, will take over the environment portfolio of the Philippines. There is a one-year ban for the appointment in government posts of candidates who were not successful during the last elections.
Ramos is career DENR personnel who rose from the rank, but some conservation organizations have expressed reservations on him because he is viewed as biased towards mining, owing to his former position as the director of the Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau. The mining industry received oppositions from various sectors because of environmental destructions associated to it. Ramos is advocating the so called “responsible mining” but he has yet to prove how this shall be carried out in as much that several mining operations have caused environmental devastations and are left without proper rehabilitation. There are allegations that Ramos is speeding up the processing of numerous mining applications. It is now a challenge to the Aquino administration on how this mining industry shall be treated relative to his resource governance agenda, especially so that several mining applications are threatening the remaining forests that are known to contain important biological resources of the country and are considered as critical watersheds.
It is also important to note that in spite of the devolution of authority from the national government to local governments, as accorded by the Local Government Code, which had been enacted during the term of Aquino’s mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, the ENR management was not fully devolved. The code still grants the DENR supervisory and control mechanisms over the devolved ENR functions while retaining the regulatory powers in permitting systems over the use of natural resources.
It is of great importance that the devolution shall be reviewed in proper perspective because some local governments are already willing to fully assume full responsibilities on ENR, including providing necessary personnel and budget allocations, which are perennial problems to the DENR. Several provinces, such as Negros Occidental, have already functional ENR offices while there are cities and municipalities that have relative capacity to carry out ENR responsibilities. Through total devolution we can make our local authorities even more accountable and appropriate policies and programs may be in enacted that would respond to local conditions and needs. In some instances, DENR issued policies are not appropriate for applications in certain areas. The DENR, however, should retain its functions as oversight body and as a technical expert and advisor to local governments.
Equally important measure that should be addressed is the institutionalization and strengthening of the protected areas system in the Philippines. It should be noted that since the enactment of the National Integrated Protected Areas Act, also passed during the incumbency of our next President’s mother in 1992, there are only 12 PAs that have been declared by the Congress out of more than 200 candidate sites. However, these Congress declared PAs are still languishing from lack of budget and personnel, which make these areas even more vulnerable to destruction.
It is therefore necessary that new administration shall look into the situation not only of the declared PAs by the Congress but as well those other candidate sites since these areas are hosting the numerous endemic species of the Philippines, many of which are already threatened to extinction in the wild. Unfortunately, many of these areas are also largely threatened with large scale resource exploitation, such as mining and logging. These protected areas are also functioning as life support systems because of the numerous social, ecological, cultural and economic benefits they provide to the people. I am hoping that the Aquino administration will not only look protected areas as sources of natural resources but the broader benefits and potentials of these biologically important sites for sustainable development once they are properly managed and protected from destructive activities. (To be continued)*.
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