Senate acts to expand areas for conversation of biodiversity

The Senate has passed on third and final reading a bill which seeks to expand the area for the conservation and protection of the country’s rich biodiversity by declaring them as national parks.

Senator Loren Legarda, chairperson of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, said the passage of Senate Bill No. 2712 into law would “help conserve and protect representative samples of unique, rare and threatened species of plants and animals and their habitat including cultural diversity.”

According to Senate President Franklin M. Drilon, the measure is meant to boost existing government conservation efforts, “which seeks to preserve the Philippines’ delicate status, prestige, and privilege as one of the most mega-diverse countries in the planet.”

According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Philippines is host to two-thirds of the world’s biodiversity and about 70 percent to 80 percent of the world’s plant and animal species. It ranks fifth in countries with the most number of plant species, fourth in bird endemism, fifth in mammal endemism and is home to five percent of the world’s flora.

Despite this, Legarda emphasized that 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. Great challenges face us in the task of protecting and preserving our rich biodiversity.”

Legarda said the Philippines had earlier taken “significant steps” to preserve and protect its biodiversity by enacting the National Integrated and Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act in 1992 which established protected areas, ranging from huge natural parks to landscapes and seascapes.

Of the country’s total land area of 30 million hectares, she said,4.07 million hectares or 13.7 percent were under terrestrial protected areas while 1.37 million hectares of 0.63 percent of the country’s total water area of 220 million hectares were covered by marine protected areas.

However, she said, only 13 of the 113 areas under the NIPAS “had proceeded to be legislated” since the passage of the NIPAS Act 23 years ago. This means that it took an average of one year and seven months for Congress to enact legislation for each protected area, Legarda said.

“Many important ecosystems remain under-protected and unprotected, including open seas, coastal areas, wetlands, tropical forests, among others. Despite the passage of NIPAS in 1992, the protection of many protected areas exits only on paper,” Legarda stressed, adding:

“It is also lamentable that they are not provided with enough resources to handle threats such as poaching, polluting and wildlife conflict.”

Once the proposed bill is enacted into law, Legarda said, local communities and other stakeholders will have the legal basis and incentive to participate in the management and protection of the areas.

“We need 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,” Legarda said.#