Press Release
November 7, 2023

Joint with
7 November 2023 (Tuesday), 9:00 a.m.
Hybrid via Cisco Webex Sen. A.M. Tolentino Room, Sen. M.L. Quezon Room
2/F Right Wing, Senate

At today's hearing, we are going to tackle six (6) bills that aim to declare certain areas in the Philippines as protected areas under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (ENIPAS). The bills are as follows:

These bills are as follows:

1.) SB No. 2202 and HB No. 8441, referring to the Aurora Memorial Protected Landscape in Aurora Province (which I filed in the Senate, and authored by Representative Rommel Angara, along with the Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Representative Elpidio Barzaga);

2.) SB No. 2203 and HB No. 8394 referring to the Mt. Sawtooth Protected Landscape in Tarlac Province (authored by Sen. C. Villar, and Representatives Cojuangco, Yap and Barzaga);

3.) SB No. 2204 and HB No. 8202, referring to the Mt. Masaraga Protected Landscapein Albay Province (authored by Sen. C. Villar, and Representatives. Cabdredo and Barzaga);

4.) SB No. 1690, referring to the Panaon Island Protected Seascape in Southern Leyte Province, which I authored;

5.) SB No. 2188 and HB No. 8395, referring to the Mt. Gutom Protected Landscape Act in Zamboanga del Norte (authored by Sen. C. Villar, and Representatives Labadlabad and Barzaga); and

6.) SB No. 2189 and HB No. 8504, referring to the Sultan Naga Dimaporo Protected Landscape and Seascape in Lanao del Norte (authored by Sen. C. Villar, and Representatives Sittie and Kahlil Dimaporo, and Barzaga).

In 2018, when I first assumed the role of Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, we successfully pushed for the passage of Republic Act No. 11038, also known as the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 2018. This law strengthened the legal framework for establishing, managing, and maintaining all designated protected areas in the country. These are identified as ecologically rich and biologically important public lands that are habitats for rare and threatened species of plants and animals, and include bio-geographic ecosystems, whether terrestrial, wetland, or marine. It is of utmost importance for the country to have an integrated and reliable system to effectively manage the protected areas to ensure the sustainability of our biodiversity. This is crucial to secure the perpetual existence of all native plants and animals for the Filipino people of present and future generations.

RA 11038 facilitated the legislation of ninety-four (94) more protected areas, in addition to the 13 protected areas that were individually legislated under the original NIPAS law, or RA No. 7586. To mention just a few, some of our prominent protected areas that have gained international recognition include the following: Eight (8) ASEAN Heritage Sites, namely Mt. Apo, Mt. Kitanglad, Mt. Malindang, Mt. Hamiguitan, Mt. Timpoong-Hibok-Hibok, Mt. Iglit-Baco, the Tubbataha Reefs, and the Agusan Marsh; plus, four Ramsar sites or Wetlands of International Importance, which include Agusan Marsh and Tubbataha Reefs (also ASEAN Heritage Sites), Olango Island, and Las Piñas-Parañaque Wetland Park, located in my home city of Las Piñas. Furthermore, the Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary is part of the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area, a transboundary protected area shared by Malaysia and the Philippines.

During the previous Eighteenth Congress, under my leadership, our Committee was able to legislate seven (7) more protected areas: 1.) Mt. Pulag Protected Landscape located in the Provinces of Benguet, Ifugao, and Nueva Vizcaya under RA No. 11685; 2.) Banao Protected Landscape in Kalinga under RA No. 11688; 3.) Tirad Pass Protected Landscape in Ilocos Sur under RA No. 11687; 4.) Mt. Arayat Protected Landscape in Pampanga under RA No. 11684; 5.) Tugbo Natural Biotic Area in Masbate under RA No. 11806; 6.) Sicogon Island Wildlife Sanctuary in Iloilo under RA No. 11933; and 7.) Naga-Kabasalan Protected Landscape in Zamboanga Sibugay under RA No. 11686. This has increased the country's total number of legislated protected areas to one hundred fourteen (114), covering a total of 4,432,984.76 hectares.

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

You see, our country's significant natural attributes carry with them great responsibility upon us. While the Philippines is rich in biodiversity, it is also among the world's biodiversity hotspots--areas experiencing high rates of habitat degradation and loss. Biodiversity hotspots have lost approximately 86 percent of their original habitat and are significantly threatened by human exploitation and climate change. Hence, many areas in the country, such as wetlands, marine sanctuaries, tropical forests, watersheds, and wildlife sanctuaries, remain under-protected. One effective way of affording protection to these areas is by designating them as protected areas through legislation. The urgency of adding more protected areas is emphasized now more than ever as we are in the midst of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which spans from 2021 to 2030. This initiative calls on all nations to massively scale up the restoration of degraded ecosystems, for the benefit of people and nature, understanding that only through healthy ecosystems can we enhance livelihoods, combat climate change, prevent biodiversity collapse, secure food sources, and ensure water availability.

In this context, it is particularly timely to discuss the merits of the bills I have earlier mentioned, which refer to six proposed protected areas that are on our agenda in today's committee hearing.

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