Press Release
February 7, 2023

Committee On Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change
Joint With Committee on Finance

7 February 2023 (Tuesday), 10:00 a.m.
Hybrid via Cisco Webex
Sen. L.M. Tañada Room 2/F Right Wing, Senate

At today's hearing, we are going to tackle five (5) bills declaring certain areas in the Philippines as protected areas under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System of (ENIPAS) and one (1) bill expanding the area of an existing legislated protected area.

These bills are as follows:

1.) SB No. 354 and SB No. 1259 (Sens. Villar and Imee Marcos) referring to the Paoay Lake Protected Landscape in Ilocos Norte;

2.) SB No. 1536 (Sen. Villar) referring to the expansion of the Las Pinas-Paranaque Wetland Park, a protected area in my hometown Las Piñas and Parañaque;

3.) SB No. 1691 (Sen. Villar), which refers to the San Francisco Protected Landscape (commonly known as the Mulanay Watershed Forest Reserve) in Quezon Province;

4.) SB No. 1725 (Sen. Villar) referring to the Alibijaban Protected Landscape and Seascape also in Quezon Province;

5.) SB No. 355 (Sen. Villar) referring to the Taklong and Tandog Group of Islands Natural Park in Guimaras; and

6.) SB No. 517 (Sen. Villar), which refers to the Bantayan Group of Islands Protected Landscape and Seascape in Cebu.

As a backgrounder, during the 17th Congress, when I was first installed as the Chairperson of this Committee, I strongly pushed for the passage of Republic Act No. 11038 or the 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 unique areas and biologically important public lands that are habitats of rare and threatened species of plants and animals, bio-geographic ecosystems, whether terrestrial, wetland or marine. It is paramount for the country to have an integrated and reliable system to manage well the protected areas for the sustainability of our biodiversity or in order to secure for the Filipino people of present and future generations the perpetual existence of all our native plants and animals.

The Expanded NIPAS Act of 2018 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. Just to mention a few, some of our prominent or internationally legislated protected areas in the country, include the following: Eight (8) ASEAN Heritage Sites, namely the Mt. Apo, Mt. Kitanglad, Mt. Malindang, Mt. Hamiguitan, Mt. Timpoong-Hibok-Hibok, Mt. Iglit-Baco, the Tubbatah Reefs and Agusan Marsh; Four Ramsar sites or Wetlands of International Importance, namely: Agusan Marsh and Tubbataha Reefs (earlier also cited as ASEAN Heritage sites), Olango Island, and Las Pinas Paranaque Wetland Park, which is located in my hometown Las Piñas City. Also, the protected area Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary is part of the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area, which is a transboundary protected area shared by Malaysia and the Philippines.

During the preceding eighteenth (18th) Congress, our Committee still under my watch was able to legislate seven (7) more protected areas and these are the following: 1.) Mt. Pulag Protected Landscape located in the Provinces of Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya; 2.) Banao Protected Landscape in Kalinga; 3.) Tirad Pass Protected Landscape in Ilocos Sur; 4.) Mt. Arayat Protected Landscape in Pampanga; 5.) Tugbo Natural Biotic Area in Masbate; 6.) Sicogon Island Wildlife Sanctuary in Iloilo; and the 7.) Naga-Kabasalan Protected Landscape in Zamboanga Sibugay. Thus, it brought the country's total legislated protected areas to one hundred fourteen (114) or a total of 4,432,984.76 hectares.

Perhaps, it would seem that one hundred fourteen protected areas may be considered a sizable number already or that 4.4 million hectares represent a great coverage already out of the approximately 30 million hectares that is the total land area of the Philippines. But that is not so as our country is one of the world's seventeen megadiverse or biodiversity-rich countries, which hosts two-thirds of the Earth's biodiversity and contain about 70 to 80 percent of the world's plant and animal species.

You see, our country's great attributes carry a great responsibility upon us. While the Philippines is biodiversity-rich, it is among the world's biodiversity hotspots or those areas experiencing high rates of habitat degradation and biodiversity loss. Hotspots have lost around 86 percent of their original habitat and are also considered to be significantly threatened due to man-made exploitation and by climate change. Hence, there are still many areas in the country, such as wetlands, marine sanctuaries, tropical forests, watersheds, wildlife sanctuaries, among others, that remain under-protected and one certain way of affording protection to these areas is by designating them as protected areas through legislation. Adding more protected areas becomes even more urgent and relevant now as we are undergoing the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which runs from 2021 to 2030. This was so declared in order for all nations to massively scale up the restoration of destroyed ecosystems in their respective jurisdictions and around the world, for the benefit of people and nature, given the realization that it is only with healthy ecosystems can we enhance the people's livelihoods, counteract climate change, stop the collapse of biodiversity, enhance food security, and ensure water supply.

In this connection, it is thus opportune for us to discuss the merits of the seven bills referring to six proposed protected areas that is our agenda at today's committee hearing.

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