BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
Say KGB and one would immediately associate it with the defunct state security agency of the Soviet Union that was known for high-level espionage. The KGB is the acronym of Russia’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, or the Committee for State Security. When I was appointed as the Protected Area Superintendent of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island in 1995, I gave KGB another meaning – the Kanla-on Green Brigade, which until today, remains a vanguard in forest protection and law enforcement in one of the Key Biodiversity Areas of the Philippines.
Through the years, KGB members evolved not only as forest wardens, but also as mountain guides, porters, rescuers, and communicators, in addition to being involved in biodiversity monitoring. After my seven-year stint as the PASu of the MKNP in June 2002, I was provided with opportunities to visit and work in some other protected and conservation areas in the Philippines, until to date. As I progressed in these assignments, and while I would like to say that the KGB scheme has its own fallouts, limitations, trying moments, and even weaknesses, I am confident to claim, too, that, so far and after two decades, it is one of the most sustained mechanisms in forest protection in the country.
What are the necessary elements of this sustainability? Community participation and benefits, continuing education, and imparting values and commitment to local folk in biodiversity conservation are among the key factors why the KGB of MKNP survived the challenges in protected area management through time. This is what I truly call community unity and efforts in protecting the area they call home and where they also derive their livelihood and income.
How the KGB in MKNP started? One of the major concerns we faced when we organized the PASu Office of the MKNP in 1995 was the limitation of personnel and financial resources for forest protection in the entire protected area covering about 24,557 hectares. We thought then that MKNP personnel alone could hardly implement forest protection, and, therefore, we need to create strategies to involve local communities and other concerned groups and agencies. It was timely, because the World Bank-supported Conservation of Priority Protected Areas in the Philippines Project of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources included MKNP as one of 10 project sites in the country.
Combining the newly hired and seasoned staff of MKNP, with forester Edgardo Rostata as my deputy PASu, now a full-fledged Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer in Cadiz City, and in partnership with the Multi-Sectoral Alliance for Development-Negros, we brainstormed how we should carry out biodiversity protection and law enforcement in MKNP. From the very start, my notion to make conservation efforts work was to involve communities in whatever undertakings.
With our team, I floated the idea of organizing community groups to become volunteers in biodiversity protection and law enforcement. There was hesitation on the part of some MKNP staff, because of the belief that communities will not get involve if they could not see any personal benefits and favor from that scheme. The security of those who will be involved was another consideration, including the possibility that they shall be alienated from community affairs. The other concern was how to proceed with organizing, especially with the logistical and financial requirements we need.
Amidst all these challenges, our team tried to dissect each issue and came out with possible options, and the first step was to intensify community awareness and education on the biodiversity significance of Mount Kanla-on. The formation of KGB started, not only on biodiversity awareness, but, more so, in inculcating deeper understanding and values on the importance of the MKNP to the lives of every community member. This was made possible by choosing clear and appropriate conservation messages and medium that created personal and emotional impacts to the target communication receivers. Effective communication strategies involved were direct interactions, dialogues, meetings, and immersion to communities.
The participation of nongovernment organization was another crucial element in the formation of KGB, and, through the support of the CPPAP, MUAD-Negros initiated social preparation, capacity building, and organizing the KGB in every barangay within the MKNP. Inter-phasing with the formation of KGBs, the MKNP park rangers were trained to assist in strengthening the organizations of different volunteers. Eventually, the park rangers became team leaders and they supervised the operations of KGB groups.
With the formation of KGBs, logistical and material support was secured from local government units, particularly the provincial government. In addition, instead of providing salaries or honorarium, the PASu Office and MUAD-Negros jointly sought livelihood projects, including reforestation projects, for KGBs. The KGBs further earned additional income from guiding and porter services in MKNP. They also became effective communication agents in the protected area, by conducting different information and education activities in communities.
Since protection and enforcements require skills and knowledge on legal matters, it was necessary to provide training on para-legal for KGBs. It was here when the PASu Office linked with the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office and NGOs with legal services to provide capacity building. It was very fortunate that then fiscal, and now judge, Philadelfa Agraviador, was the assigned prosecutor to handle environmental cases in Negros Occidental. She actively supported the KGBs with her legal technical assistance in capacity building, and in the filing and prosecuting of cases against suspected violators. From 1995 to 2002, the PASu Office has filed more than 40 cases involving illegal activities, leading to the conviction of at least 18 violators.
It is also necessary to highlight the important role of the PASu in maintaining the operations of KGBs. Since the time I was the PASu of the MKNP, from 1995 to 2002, and until now, the KGB scheme has already been integrated as a vital component of the protected area management. The MKNP management plan clearly articulated this scheme relative to the biodiversity protection and law enforcement strategy of the protected area.*
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
The Protected Area Management Board, the site-based policy and administrative body of the Northern Negros Natural Park, should heed the recommendation of its Technical Working Group to order the demolition of illegal structures in the protected area, especially those that were constructed by private individuals, who have no right to stay in this biodiversity-important site.
The recommendation of the TWG came after it was tasked by the PAMB to assess and evaluate the different structures in the NNNP and to come out with possible courses of action.
It can be recalled that the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office has issued at least 89 cease-and-desist orders to private individuals, who have been found to have constructed vacation houses in the NNNP without prior permit from the PAMB. Since NNNP is a component of the National Integrated Protected Areas System of the Philippines, as provided for in Republic Act 7586, it is a requirement that the construction or maintenance of any kind of structure, fence or enclosures, and conducting business enterprise, require the issuance of appropriate permit from the PAMB.
The PAMB is not in the position to make any decision that are contrary to the NIPAS. The regional executive director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Region VI, who acts as the chair of the management board, should make sure that the PAMB acts within its power and authority, and in conformity with appropriate laws, rules and regulations. The DENR Secretary has the power to overturn decisions rendered by the PAMB that are not appropriate in the management of protected areas, like the NNNP.
While it is true that NNNP is a protected area, it is not absolute that occupancy is not allowed. However, it is only allowed in the designated multiple use zone and restricted only to the so-called tenured migrants. Based on the revised implementing rules and regulations of the NIPAS Act, the household head shall be considered a tenured migrant if proven to have actually and continuously occupied a portion of the protected area five years before its designation under the NIPAS, and solely dependent therein for subsistence.
Tenured migrants should be organized to avail a land tenure privilege, known as the Protected Area Community Based Resource Agreement, which shall be awarded by the DENR upon the endorsement of the PAMB. The purpose of this arrangement is to control occupancy and create strong social fence. It is the responsibility of the beneficiaries of land tenure to ensure that no additional migrants will stay in the awarded sites.
Based on the initial evaluation by the DENR, the recipients of the CDOs are not actually tenured migrants, since all of them are residents of areas outside the NNNP and they are not subsistence persons.
Aside from violating the NIPAS once the PAMB allows the owners of these vacation houses to occupy portions of the NNNP, it shall become a precedent and others may also follow. If that is the scenario, the PAMB will be out of control and becomes an ineffective management body of the NNNP.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
Last 07 October marked my 50th journey on this planet we call Earth. Almost half of it has been purely devoted to the field of nature conservation and environmental protection. As I commemorated the half-century of my life’s journey, let me share some of the stories associated with my involvement in conservation work. There are so many things to tell about this journey, from hiking through rugged terrains in the jungles of Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island, wading in the waters of unspoiled rivers in Samar Island Natural Park, to diving in deep and cool blue seawaters of Apo Reef Natural Park in Oriental Mindoro. Interestingly, the profession in conservation also provides me with the opportunity to see the wild numerous flora and fauna, several of which are already threatened from extinction in their respective habitats.
The work in conservation does not only bring one to the most fascinating and awesome places, but it also includes exposure to the badly state of the environment, including denuded forestlands, polluted rivers and even heavily damaged coastal and marine areas, among others. Working in conservation also means interacting with people of various cultures. Yes, we are all Filipinos but our culture is as diverse as our flora and fauna. Meeting various indigenous tribes in Mindanao, Mindoro and high lands of Luzon led me to further appreciate and advocate the rights of the IPs to their ancestral lands.
Through the years of my involvement in conservation, I encountered community members who are engaged in timber poaching,
kaingin, wildlife hunting and other resource-extractive practices. In several instances, however, it is very inspiring to witness how these individuals engaged in destructive activities transform to become responsible stewards of nature. Interaction with employees and officials of the different government institutions is another challenge in conservation work, especially in dealing with bureaucratic procedures and protocols. There are also local and international nongovernment organizations and funding agencies that are equally interesting to work with in environment and natural resources management.
My seven-year stint in the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park as a Protected Area Superintendent, from June 1995 to June 2002, was one of the most challenging and meaningful events in my journey in conservation. That was the time when I fully embraced what biodiversity means and how it is crucial in our survival as a people and as a nation. It provided me solid background on various facets of natural resources conservation and management, including disaster risk reduction and management. Although there were controversies in the declaration of MKNP as a protected area, with the slicing of 169 hectares of its original boundary for geothermal energy development, the fact remains that it is one of the 13 protected areas that has a site-specific congressional act, out of 240 candidate sites all throughout the country. In fact, if not for our internal and aggressive advocacy to the Congress, the geothermal development should have been more than 2,000 hectares.
We also pioneered the crafting and implementation of the first mountaineering guideline in the Philippines, with the assistance of
former provincial director Edwin Gatia of the Department of Tourism. The Protected Area Management Board of MKNP, at that time, was known to be one of the two most active in the Philippines. The numerous awards, that are still on display at the MKNP administration in La Castellana, Negros Occidental, are the testimonials on the momentum we have achieved in treading the path of protected area management.
My journey in the field of conservation involved numerous visits in the different protected areas in the country, from terrestrial, freshwater to marine ecosystems. Most, if not all, of these travels were related to conservation work, like providing technical assistance in protected area management planning, project implementation, assessment, monitoring and evaluation and as a resource person or facilitator in trainings, seminars and workshops. During these travels, I did not only meet persons working in the field of protected area management, but including ocular visit to scenic spots of some protected areas. On the process, I built a network of friends in different regions and learned new things and ideas.
While visiting some protected areas, I further realized that, indeed, the Philippines is gifted with numerous natural wonders. However, our natural and scenic areas are not yet secured, because they are facing numerous threats from various economic activities. A good number of protected areas in the country are already heavily occupied and this situation triggers proposals to slice certain boundaries of these PAs for possible land titling. This is particularly true in Northern Negros Natural Park in Negros Occidental and Naujan Lake National Park in Occidental Mindoro.
Protected areas are very rich in natural resources and some of these are being eyed for heavy industries, such as mining and energy development. It is also a sad reality that most of our protected areas are languishing from lack of personnel and funds, in spite of the fact that they contain numerous natural resources. The allocation from the national government is not sufficient to cover the effective conservation and protection of our protected areas.
I also understood that conservation measures are not solely restricted in protected area management. There are also other forms of conservation modality involving other key stakeholders. I spent a couple of years in Polillo Group of Islands in Quezon province in developing and implementing the pioneering concept of Local Conservation Areas, which the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is now trying to introduce in other sites that are not protected areas. The LCA is a process of identifying biologically important sites and setting up a management regime involving local government units and other local stakeholders. This is anchored on the Local Government Code of the Philippines, which invokes the participation of LGUs in natural resources Management. As a result, about 10,000 hectares of biodiversity important sites were declared by LGUs as LCAs in five municipalities covering the Polillo island group. Subsequently, the LGUs are allocating regular funds for the protection of these LCAs.
The traditional methods in protecting our natural environment are also interesting. In Balbalasang Balbalan National Park in Kalinga province, the indigenous people are in the forefront in managing this protected area, because they consider it as a sacred place. Similarly, Mount Halcon and Mount Iglit-Baco in Mindoro are being claimed as ancestral domains of the Mangyans, while about two-third of Mount Apo Natural Park in Mindanao has been covered with Certificate of Ancestral Domain Titles. The IPs in Mount Kitanglad Range Natural Park and Mount Kalatungan Natural Park are also engaged in protection measures of these two of the most important protected areas in the Philippines.
The implementation of conservation initiatives is also very prevalent in nongovernment organizations. The Danjugan Island in my hometown in Brgy. Bulata, Cauayan is known as one of best-managed marine conservation sites. This has been made possible because of the initiatives of Philippine Reef and Rainforest Foundation. The Agap Bulusan, a local NGO in Bicol, is also managing the ecotourism in Bulusan Lake in Sorsogon province.
What I really appreciate during this long journey was the trust and confidence accorded to me by various institutions and individuals. I was given the opportunity to work with projects of some international institutions, like the World Bank, European Commission, United Nations Development Programme, Global Environment Facility, United States Agency for International Development and GIZ (Germany-based firm), among others. Most of these projects were coursed through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources through the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau.
I also participated in projects supported by the Foundation for the Philippine Environment, Philippine Tropical Forestry Conservation Foundation and Haribon Foundation. What I am also thankful was the privilege to get involve with several other NGOs, such as the Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation, Polillo Islands Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Foundation and Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation.
These are only few of the things I could share in my more than two decades of journey in the field of conservation. Of course, there were also various challenges, but having the kind of work you really love to do, while at the same, advancing your personal advocacies, meeting a lot of people and visiting some of the awesome natural areas, I would say that that it was indeed so fulfilling periods of my life, and still counting, for more years.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
The Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is now embarking in what may be considered as an ambitious and yet a very significant step in further promoting biodiversity conservation in the Philippines. This time, PAWB is not only eyeing on protected areas but also attempting to integrate and mainstream biodiversity concerns in agricultural landscapes through its project dubbed as “Biodiversity Partnerships Project: Mainstreaming in Local Agricultural Landscapes”, or shortly known as BPP. This initiative is supported by the United Nations Development Programme-Global Environment Facility covering a six-year period.
One of the key concerns in the Philippines’ biodiversity conservation is the conversion to agriculture of important terrestrial habitats, particularly the forest ecosystems. Through time, agricultural development has expanded in classified forestlands and declared national parks and other forest reserves. Today, the national park model seems no longer feasible because of the presence of settlement and associated development in formerly proclaimed national parks. As a concept, national park is only intended for recreational and scientific purposes, and should be free from other human activities, like settlement, agriculture and industrial activities.
The National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 or Republic Act 7586 introduced a radical framework from the traditional national park system to a more flexible management regime in protected areas. It introduced land tenure security for the so called tenured migrants and may allow other activities that are within the scope of the management plan of a particular PA. And this is where the BPP is relevant in promoting biodiversity friendly livelihood activities in agricultural areas within and adjacent to the different PAs.
Many of our agricultural practices are detrimental to the conservation of our biological diversity. One destructive agriculture form is the slash-and-burn-farming, which does not only wipe out the land vegetative cover but is also affecting the soil fertility. Some upland farmers are engaged in the production of high valued crops that are dependent on inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, which are not only harmful to wildlife but also to our health and the environment, in general. Many exotic agricultural species invaded our biodiversity sites and in some instances they are becoming invasive species. This is particularly true in mono-cropping system of agriculture that has contributed to the vanishing of economically productive native varieties. In most cases, agricultural development has no provisions on soil and water conservation measures.
Since BPP involves agriculture, the DENR is partnering with the Department of Agriculture in developing policies and tools in mainstreaming biodiversity in agriculture. The task includes providing specific definitions, criteria and standards on what is biodiversity friendly agriculture in the real sense. These guidelines, once formulated at the national level, shall be piloted in eight demonstration sites in the Philippines, which include the Northern Negros Natural Park in Negros Occidental.
The BPP will be working with local government units to ensure that local development planning considers the integration of biodiversity conservation in agriculture and other development initiatives. It will promote mainstreaming of biodiversity in the comprehensive land use plan and other short and long-term development plans of LGUs in eight demonstration sites. The Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc and the Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation, Inc are the NGO partners of DENR-PAWB in implementing the BPP in NNNP.
(Excerpt from the 3rd State of the Nation Address (English version) of President Benigno Aquino III on 23 July 2012. Source: Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines. Full text at http://www.gov.ph/2012/07/23/english-translation-benigno-s-aquino-iii-third-state-of-the-nation-address-july-23-2012/)
“We likewise engaged stakeholders in a level-headed discussion in crafting our Executive Order on mining. The idea behind our consensus we reached: that we be able to utilize our natural resources to uplift the living conditions of the Filipinos not just of today, also of the following generations. We will not reap the rewards of this industry if the cost is the destruction of nature.
But this Executive Order is only the first step. Think about it: In 2010, 145 billion pesos was the total value derived from mining, but only 13.4 billion or 9 percent went to the national treasury. These natural resources are yours; it shouldn’t happen that all that’s left to you is a tip after they’re extracted. We are hoping that Congress will work with us and pass a law that will ensure that the environment is cared for, and that the public and private sectors will receive just benefits from this industry.
There have always been tree planting programs in government—but after the trees have been planted, they were left alone. Communities that needed livelihood would cut these down and turn them into charcoal.
We have the solution for this. 128,558 hectares of forest have been planted across the country; this is only a fraction of the 1.5 million-hectare farmlands to be laid out before we step down. This covers the communities under the National Convergence Initiative. The process: When a tree is planted, the DWSD will coordinate with communities. In exchange for a conditional cash transfer, communities would take care of the trees; some would help nurture seeds in a nursery. 335,078 individuals now earn their livelihood from these activities.
The private sector has likewise taken part in a program that hands out special coffee and cacao beans to communities, and trains the townsfolk, too, to nurture those seeds into a bountiful harvest. The coffee is planted in the shade of the trees that in turn help prevent flooding and protect the people. The company that hands out the seeds are sure buyers of the yield. It’s a win-win situation—for the private sector, the communities with their extra income, and the succeeding generations that will benefit from the trees.
Illegal logging has long been a problem. From the time we signed Executive Order No. 23, Mayor Jun Amante has confiscated lumber amounting to more than six million pesos. He has our gratitude. This is just in Butuan; what more if all our LGUs demonstrated the same kind of political will?
The timber confiscated by DENR are handed over to TESDA, which then gives the timber to communities they train in carpentry. From this, DepEd gets chairs for our public schools. Consider this: What was once the product of destruction has been crafted into an instrument for the realization of a better future. This was impossible then—impossible so long as the government turned a blind eye to illegal activities.
To those of you without a conscience; those of you who repeatedly gamble the lives of your fellow Filipinos—your days are numbered. We’ve already sanctioned thirty-four DENR officials, one PNP provincial director, and seven chiefs of police. We are asking a regional director of the PNP to explain why he seemed deaf to our directives and blind to the colossal logs that were being transported before his very eyes. If you do not shape up, you will be next. Even if you tremble beneath the skirts of your patrons, we will find you. I suggest that you start doing your jobs, before it’s too late”.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
President Benigno Simeon Aquino III will deliver his 3rd State of the Nation Address at the opening of Congress this afternoon. I am pretty sure the President will take note of Executive Order 79, which he signed two weeks ago. The EO is entitled “Institutionalizing and Implementing Reforms in the Philippine Mining Sector, Providing Policies and Guidelines to Ensure Environmental Protection and Responsible Mining in the Utilization of Mineral Resources”. The issuance of this new EO is in consonance with Republic Act 7492, commonly known as the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.
The mining sector came out with a statement supporting the EO, while cause oriented groups lambasted it to support foreign and large scale mining industries in plundering our mineral resources. Some environmental advocates are critical on the EO, especially so that it affirms the continuity of existing mining operations. The main purposes by which the EO was formulated include the improvement of environmental mining standards and increase revenues to promote sustainable economic development and social growth, both at the national and local levels. From this provision of the EO, it is very clear that the Aquino administration is bending to pursue mining industry as one of the economic pillars of the country. How the so called environmental mining standards shall be implemented remains to be seen, given the lackluster performance of mining companies in keeping environmental protection measures. Most if not all mining operations in the country entail vegetation and landscape alteration.
The EO reiterates the closure of mining in areas specifically provided in the Mining Act, but it is worrying that it singled out the closure
of mining in protected areas “categorized and established” under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act or RA 7586. Under RA 7586, there are numerous initial components, comprising of “areas or islands in the country that have been proclaimed , designated or set aside, pursuant to a law, presidential decree, presidential proclamation or executive order as national park, game refuge, bird and wildlife sanctuary, wilderness area, strict nature reserve, watershed, mangrove reserve, fish sanctuary, natural and historical landmark, protected and managed landscape/seascape as well as identified virgin forest before the effectivity of the NIPAS Act”, that are not yet technically proclaimed and designated under the NIPAS as protected areas. Would this mean that the new EO will allow mining operations in those protected areas not yet proclaimed under the NIPAS? Most of these sites are included in the list of Key Biodiversity Areas of the Philippines.
In addition, the EO disallows mining in prime agricultural lands, including areas covered by Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law or RA 6657. Plantations and areas devoted to valuable crops, and strategic agricultural and fisheries developments zones, as well as fish refuge and sanctuaries, as declared by the Department of Agriculture, shall also be exempted from mining. It should be noted that there are fish refuge and sanctuaries declared by local government units under the current Fishery Code of the Philippines, and will these sites be opened to mining, too? EO 79 further identified tourism development sites as no-mining zones in the Philippines. However, these tourism sites shall specifically be provided in the National Tourism Development Plan. There are 78 sites in the country that have been included in NTDP covering the period from 2011 to 2016. These sites are presented in the table below.
List of Cluster Destinations and Tourism Development Areas
Tourism Development Areas
|NorthernPhilippines||NP-1: Batanes, CagayanCoast and Babuyan
|NP-1A: Batanes IslandNP-1B: Babuyan Island
NP-1C: Cagayan Coast
|NP-2: Laoag-Vigan||NP-2A: Laoag-PagudpudNP-2B: Vigan|
|NP-3: Sierra Madre
|NP3-A: Tuguegarao-TabukNP3-B: Ilagan & Isabela Coast
|NP-4: Cordillera||NP4-A: Central CordilleraNP4-B: Benguet-Baguio-Mt. Province
NP4-C: Nueva Vizcaya
|NP-5: Lingayen Gulf||NP5-A: La Union CoastNP5-B: Western Pangasinan Loop
NP5-C: East Pangasinan Circuit
NP5-D: Lingayen Coast & Islands
|NP-6: Central Luzon||NP6-A: Subic-Clark-Tarlac CorridorNP6-B: Nueva Ecija
NP6-E: Zambales Coast
NP6-F: Bataan Coast and Inland
|NP-7: Metro Manila andCALABARZON||NP7-A: Metro Manila & EnvironsNP7-B: Nasugbu-Looc-Ternate-
NP7-C: Laguna de Bay
NP7-D: Batangas Peninsula
NP7-E; Quezon Coast & Islands
|CentralPhilippines||CP-1: Bicol||CP1-A: Camarines & CatanduanesCP1-B: Albay-Sorsogon-Masbate|
|CP2-A: Marinduque IslandCP2-B: Romblon Island
CP2-C: Puerto Galera
CP2-D: Southwest Mindoro Coast
|CP-3: Palawan||CP3-A: San Vicente-El Nido-TaytayCP3-B: Puerto Princesa
CP3-C: Southern Palawan
CP3-D: Busuanga-Coron-Culion Islands
|CP-4: Western Visayas||CP4-A: Metro Iloilo-GuimarasCP4-B: Bacolod-Silay
CP4-C: Boracay Island-Northern
The EO also provides that other critical areas and island ecosystems are closed to mining, which shall be determined by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. This provision is quite vague because basically most of the islands in the Philippines are categorized as island ecosystems and critical areas using forest cover and threatened species as main indicators.
The new presidential directive on mining declares a moratorium in the issuance of new mining permits, but honors and affirms the operations of the prior approved mining tenements. Existing mining operations shall be subjected to review and evaluation as to their compliance with environmental standards, laws and regulations. A multi-sectoral team, to be led by DENR, shall undertake the review of the performance of existing mining operations.
In declaring a moratorium for new mining permits, the EO cited the need for a new legislation pertaining to the rationalization of the existing mining revenue sharing schemes and mechanisms, which I guess the President will present to the Congress this afternoon as part of his priority legislative agenda. Aquino is so clever that he puts the burden now to the Congress in deciding the fate of new mining permits in the Philippines. On a positive note, however, this development gives the Congress the opportunity to review not only the mining revenue schemes but the totality of the Mining Act, especially so there are several pending bills in Congress related to mining. Some sectors are even demanding for the scrapping of the existing Mining Act. How the review process at the Congress will proceed is something that we should keenly watch. But what will happen if the Congress will not consider the proposed mining measure of the President?
One of the controversial provisions of EO 79 is on ordinances issued by local government units on mining. Numerous LGUs issued ordinances and resolutions declaring mining ban on their respective territorial jurisdictions. According to Albay Governor Joey Salceda, one of the allies of the President who is taking a contrary position on mining, at least 40 provinces have passed ordinances that ban, restrict and regulate mining, especially on large-scale mining operations.
Section 12 of the new mining EO directed the Department of the Interior and Local Governments and LGUs to ensure consistency and conformity in exercising their powers and functions to the “regulations, decisions and policies already promulgated and taken by the national government relating to the conservation, management, development, and proper utilization of the State’s mineral resources, particularly RA 7942 and its implementing rules and regulations, while recognizing the need for social acceptance of proposed mining projects and activities”. The EO further specifies that “LGUs shall confine themselves only to the imposition of reasonable limitations on mining activities conducted within their respective territorial jurisdiction that are consistent with national laws and regulations”.
While there is no question as to the supremacy of national laws over local ordinances, this is not merely the main consideration in undermining the position of LGUs against mining. It is important to note that no less than the 1987 Philippine Constitution requires the participation of local governments in maintaining ecological balance in their respective localities. If the LGUs have scientific facts and direct experience on the adverse impacts of mining to the ecology, then passing an ordinance against mining to ensure general welfare and safety of their constituents is a valid exercise. Of course, lawyers will have the most brilliant arguments relative to this, but it is also very necessary that we should consider the social acceptability clause of various regulations, such as the Environmental Impact Assessment System and the Local Government Code.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
President Benigno Simeon Aquino III is set to sign a new Executive Order on mining, which according to Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje will affirm the superiority of the national law over ordinances passed by local governments. While there is no argument on the validity of this legal premise, it should not be taken as the sole consideration in crafting an executive order that may jeopardize the safety, health and general welfare of the people, and the environment.
The new mining EO is being considered because of the perceived deficiency of Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995. Many conservationists fear that this proposed EO would only advance large scale mining that will affect localities where the remaining forests and rich biodiversity are also found. Numerous issues, such as landscape alteration, deforestation, pollution, disposal of toxic and hazardous substances, and human rights violations, have been raised by various groups on the operations of several large-scale mining companies in the Philippines. On the other hand, the mining sector is claiming its huge contribution in fueling the economy, particularly in providing local employment and basic services, and promotion of environmental programs and projects.
The constitutionality of the Mining Act was challenged in the Supreme Court a few years back. The SC, however, overturned its first promulgation declaring the unconstitutionality of RA 7942 thereby making the mining as one of the major economic platforms of the national government. In spite of this ruling, several local government units are still not in agreement with the decision made by SC. With the rule-making functions and powers provided by the Local Government Code, several LGUs expressed their sentiments by enacting ordinances banning mining operations in their respective territorial jurisdictions. Paje was quoted in media reports last week saying that the national government will honor these local ordinances unless they have been rendered illegal. Earlier this year, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has denied the application for Environmental Compliance Certificate of the $6-billion Tampacan copper and gold mine by Sagittarius Mining in Cotabato, on the basis of an existing local ordinance, which disallows open-pit mining in the said province.
It should be noted that mining operations are covered with the Environmental Impact Assessment System of the Philippines. Under
this regulation, prior to actual mining operations, the proponent shall conduct comprehensive EIA as the basis of the DENR to grant or deny the ECC. The scope of the EIA includes determination of social acceptability, which will affirm if local stakeholders are amendable with the proposed mining project. In the ancestral domains, Free and Prior Informed Consent from the IPs is a requirement before mining activities can proceed, as provided in RA 8371 or the Indigenous People’s Right Act.
I therefore consider that local ordinances banning mining are also legal instruments on local governments’ position relative to the social acceptability requirement of the EIAS. The DENR administers the implementation of the EIAS and will it the first to overturn its equally important and related guideline on mining? Similarly, the DENR, jointly with the Department of Interior and Local Governments, has issued a memorandum circular requiring its field offices to secure prior comments from LGUs on any proposed program or project that shall be implemented in a particular locality, especially if the proposal involves the use of natural resources.
Albay Governor Joey Salceda claimed in media reports that he and 39 other governors are planning to challenge before the Supreme Court the new mining policy of the administration once it will be signed by the President. Salceda added 40 provinces have passed ordinances that ban, restrict and regulate mining, especially on large-scale mining operations. How the Aquino administration will stand on mining relative to the concerns and opposition raised by LGUs merits closer scrutiny, indeed.
BY: ERROL ABADA GATUMBATO
The proposed ordinance of Negros Occidental Sangguniang Panlalawigan Member Emilio Yulo III requiring national government agencies and permit applicants to consult and secure an approval from concerned local government units before implementing projects, with potential ecological concerns in their areas, is a very important local legislation once approved and enacted.
Local consultation and approval are actually requirements of numerous national guidelines pertaining to environment and natural resources management, and the proposed ordinance of Yulo, chairperson of the SP Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, will ensure participation of LGUs in decision-making processes of projects that may likely adversely affect the environment, such as mining and other extractive activities.
The Environment Impact Assessment System and its associated implementing guidelines require consultation and endorsement by Local Government Units prior to the implementation of environmentally critical projects in their respective areas of jurisdiction. This is part of the social acceptability mechanism during the environment impact assessment stage of any proposed project falling under the EIA system, and a requirement before the issuance of the environmental compliance certificate for the said proposal by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The proposed ordinance of Yulo localizes the application of this requirement under the EIA System of the Philippines.
It is also important to note that the proposal of Yulo is within the context of the Local Government Code and its relevant guidelines, particularly the Joint DENR – Department of Interior and Local Governments Memorandum Circular 2003 – 01 on the strengthening and institutionalizing the DENR-DILG-LGU partnership on devolved and other forest management functions. This guideline mandates pertinent DENR offices to submit comments by relevant LGUs on any application for tenure instruments, including resource extraction permits, before said instruments or permits are issued. The LGUs are given 15 days from the receipt of any application to submit comments to the DENR otherwise it will be presumed that the concerned LGUs fully endorse the said application.
Section 7 of the Joint DENR – DILG MC further stipulates that if comments of LGUs are not solicited for a particular permit, specifically issued within the forestland, the said permit shall be reviewed and all activities in the subject area shall likewise be suspended, until such time that comments of concerned LGUs are received. The guideline further warned the community, provincial and regional personnel of the DENR to be administratively in the event they failed to solicit the comments of LGUs and gave due course to the processing of the application. The proposed provincial ordinance clearly supports the provision of the LGC for LGUs to share responsibility with the national government in maintaining ecological balance in their respective territorial jurisdictions. The Sangguniang Panlalawigan, for instance, is given the authority to enact ordinances in protecting the environment and impose appropriate penalties on acts which endanger the environment.
DENR – DILG MC 2003 – 01 also provides opportunity for LGUs to participate in broader forest management functions through entering co-management agreement with the DENR. The co-management introduced in the guideline grants LGUs to manage identified forestlands covering even more than 30,000 hectares. Under this scheme, a management steering committee shall be organized to be responsible in policy and project development in forestlands subject of the agreement, with the concerned LGU chief executive and DENR representative as co-chair.
The agreement shall clearly specify the roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of officers and organizations involve in the co-management. The participation of civil society groups and relevant government agencies is encouraged in the management steering committee.
BY: ERROL ABADA GATUMBATO
The Philippines is an amazing country endowed with a variety of life forms. Our geographic feature, as a group of islands,
enormously gifted us with numerous species of flora and fauna that could not be found elsewhere in the world or the so called endemic species. In fact, a good number of our species is restricted only to a particular island, which makes the Philippines as one of the world’s center of endemism. The diversity of our biological resources is also attributed to a wide range of habitats, from terrestrial ecosystems to coastal and marine ecosystems. Unfortunately, our environment and natural resources seem badly managed through the years such that many of our endemic species are already at the brink of extinction in the wild, and the different habitats are similarly deteriorating. The major causes for the endangerment of our species are excessive exploitation and habitat destruction. Several of our species are already classified as critically endangered, meaning their population in the wild is getting limited and they may likely extinct if no proper measures are implemented. The Negros Island, in particular, is among the candidate sites for extinction in the Philippines because most of its endemic species are already listed as threatened species by both the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the IUCN-World Conservation Union.
Given also the diversity of the situation in one island to another island, it is also necessary we explore various conservation regimes that will contribute to the protection of our threatened endemic species and their corresponding habitats. One of the most common approaches to biodiversity conservation is the protected areas system, and we have a very good policy framework on this, as enunciated in the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act or Republic Act 7586. While the NIPAS is known to be the most effective measure for biodiversity conservation, it suffered setbacks in the implementation because the DENR was caught unaware of rigorous processes and resources needed to make RA 7586 nationally operational, according to Director Mundita Lim of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau. Many of our protected areas are languishing from lack of the much needed resources, including technical and managerial assistance, and seemingly this challenge is far from resolution.
The constraint imposed by the protected areas system should be considered as an opportunity to look into other mechanisms and strategies in biodiversity conservation. The PAWB recognizes the need to explore some conservation models as alternatives to protected area, especially in areas where no protection measures are already in place. Lim said, this is precisely the motivation why the PAWB, in partnership with non-government organizations, is now implementing the New Conservation Areas in the Philippines Project, with a grant provided by the Global Environment Facility through the United Nations Development Programme. The NewCAPP capitalizes learning from some sites that have established conservation areas through local processes and approval and will hopefully emulate those lessons learned in other project sites. The experience of the municipalities of Polillo, Panukulan and Burdeos in the Polillo Group of Islands in establishing local conservation areas through issuance of Sangguniang Bayan ordinances is a pioneering effort that is working quite well in protecting the Polillos threatened endemic species. The model invoked the Local Government Code as a policy framework for LGUs to take the lead in natural resources management, in as much that the presence of the DENR could hardly be felt in the group of islands.
Since the Philippines is also a culturally diverse country, with several tribes of Indigenous People, it is worth looking into the traditional natural resources governance as a working model in biodiversity conservation. This involves establishment of Indigenous Cultural Conservation Areas in the ancestral domain claims of the IPs. Some studies show that the IP traditional resource management is in fact more sensitive to biodiversity because of the close association of the IP’s way of life to nature. The declaration of this traditional conservation paradigm solely lies at the IPs and it is important to work with tribal groups in promoting biodiversity. Other conservation models include private reserves and community managed conservation areas. One best example of a successful conservation initiative is the Danjugan Island in southern Negros Occidental. It is currently owned and managed by the Philippines Reef and Rainforest Foundation and conservation measures in the area are on-going. It is also being developed as a prime ecotourism destination in the region. Some marine protected areas and fish sanctuaries are also established as community managed conservation sites. With the diverse threats and issues facing our biodiversity, it is high time that we shall explore all mechanisms that will ensure proper protection of our threatened endemic species and habitats.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
The Conservation International declared recently the forest of the Philippines as the world’s 4th most threatened forest. This pronouncement serves as another grim reminder on the sad ecological state of our country. Unlike the phenomenal suicide case of former Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Angelo Reyes, that captured the whole country’s attention, the CI announcement did not bother many of us in spite its relevance, since it involves our very own ecological security as a nation. Reyes, who was also the former Environment and Natural Resources Secretary, took his own life last week amidst allegations of his involvement in the anomalous transactions in the AFP.
While emotions and grief are pouring on the so called “honorable suicide” of Reyes, as described by some of his former colleagues at the AFP, our remaining forest awaits us not to weep and mourn, but to take drastic and immediate actions in arresting its additional degradation, just like the need to protect the furthering erosion of the integrity of the “People Power” we introduced globally 25 years ago. According to CI, the Philippines had lost almost 93% of its original forest, and I hope it is not the same percentage of Filipinos who started to be disillusioned on what is currently happening in our society.
Our remaining forest, in addition as a source of timber, food and, other forest resources, is also an important habitat to diverse and exceptionally rich flora and fauna many of which are found nowhere else in this Earth. Scientific facts claim that the Philippines has at least 169 species of birds, 115 land mammals, 214 reptiles and amphibians, and a good number of flora that are totally classified as endemic in this country. Some species are even restricted only to a particular island, like the Negros fruit dove in Negros, the Cebu Cinnamon tree and Cebu flowerpecker in Cebu and the Tamaraw in Mindoro, to name a few. The figures on endemic species are relatively astonishing given the relatively smaller size of the Philippines compared with other countries. Much of these species are forest dependents and their survival entirely depends on how we protect and rehabilitate the already threatened forest habitats. Many of our endemic species are already in the verge of extinction in the wild.
The forest is also an ecosystem that provides numerous ecological services and functions. The intact and extensive forests help
mitigate the impacts of natural disasters brought by heavy rains, like flooding, landslides, soil erosion, sedimentation, and siltation, among others. The forest further plays a crucial role in maintaining water cycles, including its vital importance in mitigating the impacts of the changing climatic conditions. The deterioration of the forest is viewed as one significant contributing factor in what is popularly known now as the climate change phenomenon. The forest is also important in the promotion of nature-based tourism. In response to the critical state of our forest, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III issued early this month a logging moratorium in the natural and residual forests all throughout the country, as provided in Executive Order No. 23. The EO prohibits the DENR in issuing tree cutting permits in all natural and residual forests and it created the anti-logging task force.
Although EO 23 is viewed as a concrete gesture and recognition on the need to protect the remaining forest, I have reservations on the exemptions it provides for tree cutting in natural and residual forests for purposes of road construction and site preparation in establishing tree plantation. These exemptions may be used by loggers to request a permit from DENR for industrial tree plantation. As we commemorate the International Year of the Forest this 2011, as declared by the United Nations, it is very necessary that we shall emphasize the relevance of our forest ecosystem as a life-support system, more than the short-term economic benefits derived from it. The forests are known as renewable resources, but the way the Philippines has exploited the forest resources, either through legal or illegal means, was much beyond the capacity of the forest ecosystem to naturally regenerate, while forest restorations are yet to be maximized. We need to look and implement meaningful ways and means to effectively protect and rehabilitate our forests, which are still under pressures from numerous anthropogenic disturbances, in the same way that we seek the truth behind the demise of Reyes.
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