By Ernie Reyes
MANILA – Senator Cynthia A. Villar has committed to pursuing more legislation in the Upper Chamber in order to protect more forest lands and secure more protected areas (PAs) in the country.
As chairperson of the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change, she led last January 11, the Senate hearing on bills seeking to declare the Tugbo Natural Biotic Area in Masbate as a protected area, and to reclassify into an agricultural land a portion of the Mangabul Forest Reserve in Bayambang, Pangasinan.
“The Tugbo Natural Biotic Area, under consideration today, is the seventh (7th) protected area we hope to pass within this 18th Congress,” said Villar during the hearing.
Located in Masbate City and the Municipality of Mobo in Masbate, she said 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.
On the other hand, Villar said the proposed conversion of a portion of the Mangabul Forest Reserve as an alienable and disposable land will “promote social justice” as it will benefit the long-term farmer-occupants of the area.
“It will also be for “setting things right” for farmers who have been occupying the area for a long time,” she emphasized.
“We aim to strike a balance between affording social justice and the conservation and the restoration of our forest ecosystem,” She added.
Villar pushed for the passage of the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas Systems (E-NIPAS) 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.
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.
“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 has yet to be given “protected area” status by legislative action, in order to ensure their conservation,” related Villar.
This is the reason why in this present 18th Congress, the senator said they 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 in Benguet, 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.
“We hope to pass it also on 3rd reading upon the resumption of session next week,” further stated Villar. (ai/mtvn)