SENATOR LOREN LEGARDA
Senate Bill No. 2712, Committee Report No. 117
18 March 2015
I have the honor to seek approval of Senate Bill No. 2712 under Committee Report No. 117 or the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas Act of 2015.
The Philippines is considered as one of the world’s megadiverse countries, a group of nations hosting two-thirds of the earth’s biodiversity and about 70-80% of the world’s plant and animal species. It also ranks fifth in the number of plant species, fourth in bird endemism, fifth in mammal endemism, and is home to five percent of the world’s flora.
These numbers, however, should not give us a false sense of complacency. Great challenges face us in the task of protecting and preserving our rich biodiversity.
For too long, we have taken our natural resources for granted. Our forests, our oceans and our mineral deposits have come under such intense human pressure that our biodiversity and whole ecosystem are now under threat. This is the reason why I stand before you, my esteemed colleagues, to encourage you all to work with me to tread the path towards preserving our biodiversity.
A significant step towards the preservation and protection of our country’s biodiversity is the establishment of a system of protected areas – ranging from huge natural parks, to landscapes and seascapes.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defined protected areas as “a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.”
Since the Philippines is a country with very rich biodiversity, its protection constitutes a national priority. Section 4, Article 12 of the 1987 Constitution states that: “The Congress shall, as soon as possible, determine, by law, the specific limits of forest lands and national parks, marking clearly their boundaries on the ground. Thereafter, such forest lands and national parks shall be conserved and may not be increased nor diminished, except by law. The Congress shall provide for such period as it may determine, measures to prohibit logging in endangered forests and watershed areas.”
The National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act, enacted in 1992, also provides for the integration of areas into the System through a lengthy and careful inclusion procedure. This includes the conduct of suitability assessments, publication and public hearings, which then leads to the issuance of a Presidential proclamation and culminates in the final declaration and classification of the land by Congress as a national park.
Of the country’s total land area of 30 million hectares, 4.07 million hectares or 13.7% are under terrestrial protected areas, while 1.37 million hectares or 0.63% of the country’s total water area of 220 million hectares are covered by marine protected areas.
Effectively managed protected areas play a critical role in the country’s food security. Even with the observed decline in fish biomass in the Visayan Sea which is threatened by overfishing and destructive fishing methods, fish population found in marine protected areas continue to thrive and remain highly diverse. 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.
At present, there are 113 areas in the country that have been declared by the President as protected areas under the NIPAS. However, only 13 have proceeded to be legislated as such, even as 23 years have passed since the passage of the NIPAS Act back in June 1, 1992. This means that it took an average of 1 year and 7 months for Congress to enact legislation for each protected area.  At this current rate, it would take us more than two lifetimes in order to enact legislation for the remaining protected areas already covered by presidential proclamation that still need congressional enactment.
Moreover, many important ecosystems remain under-protected, including open seas, coastal areas, wetlands, tropical forests, among others. Despite the passage of the NIPAS Act in 1992, the protection of many protected areas exist only on paper. It is also lamentable that they are not provided with enough resources to handle threats such as poaching, polluting and wildlife conflict.
While we have made progress in the field of preservation of our protected areas and with the Philippines as a signatory to several international agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), signed by 150 government leaders during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, there is still an urgent need to designate areas of national interest for human security, ecological integrity, climate change mitigation and adaptation, disaster risk reduction and inclusive growth.
Faced by this stark reality, this Committee, together with the support of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, particularly the Biodiversity Management Bureau, pursued the approach of pushing for an amendment to the NIPAS Act in order to cover the remaining protected areas requiring congressional enactment.
The proposed amendments to the NIPAS Act under Committee Report No. 117 adopt the lessons learned from the implementation for the past years of the NIPAS Act. It integrates practical measures that strengthen the implementation of our country’s law on protected areas.
If enacted, local communities and other stakeholders will have the legal basis and incentive to participate in the management and protection of the areas.
If enacted, the same will help conserve and protect representative samples of unique, rare and threatened species of plants and animals and habitat including cultural diversity, by declaring as national parks the remaining parcels of land under the NIPAS, thus, ensuring the sustainable use of our natural resources.
If this measure is not acted upon now, we are facing dangerous consequences, such as loss of biological diversity, both for wildlife species and their habitat; occurrence of calamities such as flooding, soil erosion, and landslides and continued illegal and unsustainable resource utilization.
We need to work together to conserve and, if possible, rehabilitate the natural resources that have been damaged by irresponsible acts. We have to work double time because the protection of our environment is also crucial in our effort towards building resilience and adapting to the changing climate.
More importantly, protected areas can be buffer for natural hazards and climate change. Intact forests can hold water to prevent flooding, mangroves are natural defense against storm surges, and sustainable development can lead to increased resilience.
With the foregoing considerations, I call on my colleagues in this august chamber for their support to this very important measure.
Thank you, Mr. President.
 NIPAS Act was approved on 1 June 1992. From 1992 to 2014—meaning 22 years have passed and divide it by the number of PAs with legislation which is 13 and one arrives at figure of 1.69 or 1 year and 7 months for each PA.