Press Release
January 11, 2022

Opening statement of Senator Cynthia Villar

There are two (2) topics in our agenda for today.

First in the agenda is the declaration as a protected area of the Tugbo Natural Biotic Area located in Masbate City and the Municipality of Mobo, in the Province of Masbate under House Bill No. 9488 principally authored by Representative Elisa Kho and its Senate counterpart, Senate Bill No. 1711 that I filed.

Second in the agenda are the bills seeking for the reclassification of the portion of Mangabul Forest Reserve Located in Bayambang, Pangasinan into Agricultural Land Open to Disposition to Bonafide and Long-Term Farmers of the Area. These are House Bill No. 9253 principally authored by Representative Baby Arenas, Senate Bill No. 1961 authored by Majority Leader Migz Zubiri and Senate Bill No. 2444 authored by Senator Bong Revilla.

I. Declaring the Tugbo Natural Biotic Area as a Protected Area under the ENIPAS Act

As a backgrounder, when I became the Chairperson of this Committee in 17th Congress, I vigorously pushed for the passage of Republic Act No. 11038 or the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (ENIPAS) Act of 2018, which strengthened the legal framework for the establishment, management and maintenance of all designated protected areas in the country or those that are identified to be ecologically rich and biologically important public lands that are habitats of rare and threatened species of plants and animals, biogeographic zones and related ecosystems. The said law is a landmark because it facilitated the legislation of ninety four (94) more protected areas or PAs, in addition to the 13 PAs individually legislated under the operation of the original NIPAS law or RA No. 7586. It brought the country's total legislated protected areas to one hundred seven (107) or a total of 4,382,568.69 hectares.

However, while 107 is already a staggering number, based on the records and suitability assessments by the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) of DENR, there are still numerous sites in the country that have yet to be given "protected area" status by legislative action, in order to ensure their conservation. Also, while the Philippines is biodiversity-rich, it is also among the world's biodiversity hotspots or those areas experiencing high rates of habitat degradation and biodiversity loss. Thus, there are still many areas in the country, such as wetlands, forests, watersheds, wildlife sanctuaries, and natural biotic areas, among others, that remain under-protected and one certain way of affording protection to these areas is by designating them as protected areas under a law so that the NIPAS mechanism of protection and conservation may be applied to these areas.

This is the reason why in this present 18th Congress, we have already so far passed bills covering five (5) more protected areas under the ENIPAS and the bills are now to be transmitted to the Office of the President for approval and enactment. These refer to the following protected areas: Mt. Pulag Protected Landscape located in the Provinces of Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya; the Banao Protected Landscape in Kalinga Province; the Tirad Pass Protected Landscape in Ilocos Sur; the Mt. Arayat Protected Landscape in Pampanga; and the Naga-Kabasalan Protected Landscape in Zamboanga Sibugay. A sixth (6th) bill, the Sicogon Island Wildlife Sanctuary bill, is pending second reading in the Senate plenary and we hope to pass it also on 3rd reading upon the resumption of session next week.

The Tugbo Natural Biotic Area, under consideration today, is the seventh (7th) protected area we hope to pass within this 18th Congress. Located in Masbate City and the Municipality of Mobo in Masbate, the Tugbo Natural Biotic Area serves as the primary water source of the said LGUs, and is home to various endemic flora and fauna, including vulnerable wild bird species.

II. Reclassification of the portion of Mangabul Forest Reserve in Bayambang, Pangasinan into Agricultural Land Open to Disposition to Bonafide and Long-Term Farmers of the Area

The second topic refers to the reclassification of a portion of the Mangabul Reservation in Bayambang, Pangasinan into alienable and disposable land in order to benefit the long-term farmer-occupants of the area.

The way I look at it, the bills seeks to promote social justice. It is not so much about the State giving away land of public domain, but it is about setting things right as the intended beneficiaries of the public land to be declared alienable and disposable (A & D) agricultural land are the farmers and their families who are the ones toiling and residing in the Mangabul reservation for generations now. As it stands now, the Mangabul Reservation is classified as forest or timberland and thus inalienable. The Committee will also make sure that the portion of Mangabul Reservation to be reclassified as agricultural land, to be alienated and disposed to the farmer-occupants thereof will be the portion that is found to be non-conforming to forests and forest land uses. We aim to strike a balance between affording social justice and the conservation or restoration of our forest ecosystem.

And so, with that, we hope to have a productive discussion on the measures.

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