DENR urged to hire more forest guards amid Mt. Apo fire incident

March 29, 2016

At least two senators on Tuesday urged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and local government units to assign additional forest rangers to monitor visitors at protected areas following the fire incident on Mt. Apo.

“It is unfortunate that we have already lost several hectares of forest cover in Mt. Apo due to this fire. It is unfortunate that even our protected areas are not safe from such tragic events,” Senator Loren Legarda said in a press statement.

The senator renewed her call for stronger conservation and security measures on protected areas as, according to reports, more than 100 hectares of forest cover in Mt. Apo have been affected by the fire that was believed to have started last Saturday. The cause of the fire was still unknown.

The fire has already been contained as of Sunday evening, according to Joey Recemilla, chairman of the eco-tourism committee of the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB).

“Two years ago, a forest fire that was believed to be man-made transpired at the top of Mt. Banahaw, affecting at least 50 hectares of forest land. We need to strengthen conservation measures in our protected areas so we prevent such disasters,” Legarda said.

She also called for stricter implementation of existing laws such as the Republic Act No. 9237 or the Mount Apo Protected Area Act of 2003 as she urged the public to be morally responsible for their actions, especially those trekking mountains.

Legarda has been pushing for the passage of the proposed Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act (ENIPAS) to actively help areas that remain under-protected, including open seas, coastal areas, wetlands and tropical forests.

If enacted, the ENIPAS will enhance conservation efforts for unique, rare and threatened species of plants and animals and their habitat, thus ensuring the sustainable use of our natural resources and cultural diversity.

The Senate has approved the proposed ENIPAS but the counterpart measure in the House of Representatives is yet to be passed.

Meanwhile, Senator Francis Escudero said the government could use the Environment Conditional Cash Transfer or ECCT to hire more forest guards and address weak law enforcement, which is largely blamed for illegal logging and wildlife crimes.

“Ang isang madaling paraan na pwedeng gawin upang paramihin ang ating mga forest guard ay sa pamamagitan ng Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT). Kapag ikaw ay naninirahan sa kagubatan at ikaw ay tumutulong para protektahan at pangalagaan ang ating yamang-gubat, dapat mabigyan ng kapalit ang ibinibigay mong serbisyo sa pamamagitan ng CCT o 4Ps mula sa pamahalaan,” he said in a separate press statement.

In a Senate hearing last year, DENR officials lamented that there were only 2,500 forest guards nationwide. They said the average forest protection force ratio in the country was one guard per 7,000 hectares as opposed to the ideal ratio of one guard per 2,000 hectares.

Early this year, Escudero expressed alarm over a report that all 23 forest guards at Ipo Watershed left their posts in January due to unpaid salaries equivalent to 15 months, which he said may expose one of the main sources of Metro Manila’s water supply to illegal logging activities.

These forest guards, who are supposed to receive a salary of P8,500 a month, patrol the 6,600-hectare Ipo Watershed, an area of mountain forests in Bulacan which is part of the larger Angat Watershed system. It provides 97 percent of Metro Manila’s water needs.

Source: GMA Network