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Legarda Gravely Concerned with Protected Areas Utilization, Urges Extreme Caution

May 6, 2018

Bonn, Germany—Senator Loren Legarda today said that the Special Use Agreement in Protected Areas (SAPA) must be utilized with extreme caution due to the fragility of our ecosystems, but maintained that she is not fully convinced on the need to subject protected areas to such agreements.

Legarda, who is currently in Bonn as Head of the Philippine Delegation to the 48th Session of the Subsidiary Bodies of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), made the statement in reaction to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) lifting of the moratorium on SAPAs.

“The law does not ban, per se, the ‘use and enjoyment’ of Protected Areas (PAs), but where no or limited activities are allowed, such as in strict protection zones, it should be DENR’s primary objective to protect and preserve nature in its undisturbed state,” said Legarda.

The Senator said that the establishment and management of our National Integrated Protected Areas System is covered by Republic Act No. 7586 or the NIPAS Law. Its objectives are clear—to place important biodiversity areas under effective management and to ensure that the use of our protected areas is consistent with the principles of biological diversity and sustainable development.

Legarda underscored the importance of protected areas, noting that effectively managed PAs play a critical role in the country’s food security. For instance, from an average yield of 40 tons of fish per square kilometer, fish supply significantly rises to 125 tons per square kilometer from marine protected areas.

Moreover, PAs can help protect vulnerable communities and reduce the impact of natural hazards. Mangrove forests serve as buffer against storm surge and tsunami. For climate change mitigation, terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems serve as major carbon stores and sinks as they reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from energy production and land use change.

Legarda, thus, expressed grave concern over the lifting of the moratorium on SAPAs because even with the moratorium, the management of protected areas is already a great challenge.

Based on the DENR figures, 64% of the Key Biodiversity Areas of the 240 protected areas under NIPAS remains unprotected. In terms of management effectiveness, 85% of all PAs do not have updated management plans, 65% do not have a PA trust fund in place, and 36% do not have organized Protected Areas Management Boards (PAMBs).

“While it may seem that the fees that will be imposed on the applicants for SAPA could help augment resources to improve the management of our PAs, it could actually add pressure to the already understaffed PAMBs and may even adversely affect the management and monitoring of the PAs under special agreement,” said Legarda.

The Senator said that the DENR should at least create a Technical Working Group with Congress to reexamine and improve the provisions of DENR Administrative Order No. 2007-17 (Rules and Regulations Governing Special Uses Within Protected Areas) to ensure that necessary social and environmental safeguards are in place before the full implementation.

“Such safeguards should take into consideration not only the revenue generating aspect of PAs. Comprehensive and continuous monitoring systems in the PA should also be established to keep track of the state of water, biodiversity, soil, and other resources, ecosystem goods and services as influenced by climate, and other stressors including SAPA activities,” said Legarda.

“Any proposal on the special use of a declared protected area, whether by the government or by the private sector, should also consider the disaster risk such use may engender, given the prevailing vulnerability and exposure of local communities to the impact of climate change. In line with this, the DENR should require a thorough risk assessment in evaluating any application for SAPA,” she stressed.

“The decision of the DENR Secretary to lift the moratorium falls within his authority under the existing laws, but there are strict guidelines that need to be enforced and limits as to the activities that may be allowed within the various categories of PAs. I will be closely monitoring the developments and demand results as called for under the NIPAS Act,” Legarda concluded.

Legarda is the principal author of the proposed Expanded NIPAS Law, which has already been approved by the bicameral conference committee.

Among the key features of the measure include the strengthening of the governance system for PAs by creating a Protected Area Management Office for each of the protected areas, and the rationalization of the existing PAMB by including local government officials, indigenous peoples, non-government organizations, academic institutions and women.

The development of management plans will also include measures for climate change adaptation and mitigation, disaster risk reduction and management, waste sewerage and septic management, apart from the previously mandated requirement for zoning, buffer zone management, site-specific policy development, socio-economic and scientific researches, among others.