The Northern Negros Natural Park as a Protected Area
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
The VISAYAN DAILY STAR in Bacolod City reported a few weeks back that there is a pending proposal for the merger of the Northern Negros Forest Reserve Management Council and the Protected Area Management Board of the Northern Negros Natural Park in Negros Occidental, through forging of a memorandum of agreement between these two separate management bodies. The NNFR Management Council was organized several years ago by virtue of an executive order issued by former Governor Rafael Coscolluela, as a coordinating body of the then Northern Negros Forest Reserve. The provincial government, under the leadership of former governor Joseph Marañon, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources worked out for the declaration of the NNFR as a protected area under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 or Republic Act 7586. Presidential Proclamation 895 issued on 15 August 2005 declared the Northern Negros Natural Park, which legally and technically amended the declaration of the NNFR, as contained in Proclamation No. 7 dated 7 August 1946.
The NIPAS Act clearly provides that a PAMB shall be organized in every declared protected area to decide matters relating to planning, peripheral protection, and general administration of the subject site. The PAMB is under the control and supervision of the DENR and chaired by the DENR Regional Executive Director who has administrative jurisdiction over the designated protected area. Unfortunately, the governor of the province where a protected area can be located is not a member of the PAMB. The Provincial Planning and Development Coordinator represents the provincial government to the PAMB, as prescribed in the NIPAS Act. The participation of the governor to the PAMB may be an issue of RA 7586. This is particularly true in the case of NNNP because it is actually the provincial government who does some protection and rehabilitation measures in the area. While Congress has still to enact a site specific law for NNNP, the provincial government is proposing to co-manage the area, given that the DENR lacks adequate resources to make the PAMB fully operational. On the other hand, the provincial government has long been providing funds to support conservation activities in NNNP. The initiative of the provincial government under Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr is very noble and interesting, but I am in doubt of the validity of making the NNFR Management Council as a sort of the PAMB for NNNP, as being proposed.
The proposed co-management for the NNNP between the DENR and the provincial government of Negros Occidental requires the approval of the NNNP PAMB. The DENR Regional Executive Director shall represent in the MOA, as the chair of the PAMB. The proposed MOA may cover particular authorities and functions, but I am in doubt if the authority vested upon to the PAMB, by the NIPAS Act, can be fully delegated to the NNFR Management Council, which is now called the NNNP Management Council. This development surfaced with the declaration of NNNP because it basically outlived the purpose by which the former NNFR Management Council was organized. The NIPAS grants exclusive authority over the PAMB to manage the protected area, but partnership agreement may be forged with concerned institutions, like the provincial government. However, creating another management body, although may have the same composition with that of the PAMB may not be feasible at present, until the Congress provides otherwise.
It should be noted that the opportunity to introduce a different management system for a protected area is through a site-specific law, which shall be enacted by the Congress. Unfortunately only 12 of more than 200 candidate sites all throughout the country have been declared as protected areas by the Congress since the NIPAS Act was passed. Much if not all of these Congress declared protected areas only followed the NIPAS prescribed management system. The co-management agreement being proposed is due to the fact that the PAMB for NNNP is not yet operational. This is actually the problem of many protected areas under the NIPAS because the DENR lacks resources to make the PAMB fully functional. It is by this account that I am personally advocating that other management options shall be considered first before declaring a particular site as a protected area.
The other probable management option for NNNP is for the PAMB to convene and adopt a resolution making Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. of Negros Occidental as the PAMB Co-Chair. The PAMB may further designate the Provincial Environment Management Office as the co-secretariat of the DENR to the operations of the PAMB. I am not really sure of the legal implications of this since both the chair and secretariat of the PAMB are functions given to the DENR by the NIPAS Act. However, if this is locally acceptable and functional, Negros Occidental will pioneer this kind of management system in the country. The proposed bill for NNNP should be reviewed carefully in terms of institutional arrangements for its management. It is really feasible that instead of the PAMB the NNNP Management Council shall be declared as the management body of the area with the governor as the chair and the Protected Area Superintendent shall be under the PEMO. It is therefore necessary that the author and co-authors of the proposed bill in the House of Representatives and Senate shall ensure that the said provisions will not be changed in as much that the DENR at the national level may raise objections during public hearings. In the event that the Congress will allow such institutional arrangement, the NNNP would become the first provincial protected area in the Philippines.
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