Press Release
June 5, 2020

Villar highlights importance of protection of wildlife habitats to mark World Environment Day

Sen. Cynthia Villar today said the celebration of World Environment Day takes on a new meaning amid the coronavirus pandemic which highlights the interdependence of humans and the webs of life.

Since 1974, World Environment Day is celebrated in over 100 countries around the world every June 5. This year's theme is "Biodiversity," which the United Nations says is urgent and existential given the global disease pandemic, among other recent events such as bushfires and locust infestations.

Villar, chair of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, cited the study stating that the continuous destruction of wildlife habitats and biodiversity loss contribute to the spread of infectious diseases.

"We designate some areas in our country as protected areas because it is important for these places to remain untouched and unexploited. There's already a wealth of studies out there asserting that infectious diseases such as Ebola, HIV, swine fever and avian flu originated from animals," Villar said.

According to the Wildlife Conservation Society study, habitat loss forces animals to move to areas populated by people, who become exposed to the pathogens of animals that in turn spread viruses. Scientist cited as example the Nipah virus outbreak in Malaysia in the late 1990s. Deforestation drove fruit bats to transfer from their natural habitat to trees in pig farms. The pigs came into contact with bat droppings and became infected. The pigs then infected farmers.

The United Nations said human actions such as deforestation, encroachment on wildlife habitats and acceleration of climate change, have pushed nature beyond its limit and claims that the emergence of COVID-19 "has underscored the fact that, when we destroy biodiversity, we destroy the system that supports human life."

As a senator, Villar led legislative efforts to amend Republic Act (RA) 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act which was passed into law in 1992. The Act provides the legal framework for the establishment and management of protected areas in the country. NIPAS refers to the classification and administration of all designated protected areas to preserve genetic diversity and to maintain their natural conditions to the greatest extent possible. The Expanded NIPAS Act was passed in 2017 to include more areas.

"The more natural habitats we protect, the lesser the loss in biodiversity and the better it is for wildlife. In turn, there are less chances or risks from zoonotic diseases (those that originate from animals and passed on to humans). Wildlife protection can stop another virus outbreak or even a pandemic. That is more than enough encouragement or incentive for us to do our part," said Villar.

The lady senator also supported a provision in Senate Bill 1564 or the "Bayanihan to Recover as One Act" mandating the implementation of proper management and segregation of waste, especially of hazardous materials coming from health facilities, communities and households in order to contain the COVID-19 virus and other diseases.

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