DENR proposes additional no-mining zonesBy Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has recommended that the state declare nine sites as protected areas and nearly 200 other sites as tourism zones to protect them from mining claims and extractive activities.
Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said the DENR and the National Tourism Council last week approved proposals to delineate hundreds of areas as special zones to limit commercial activities there.
There are currently 239 protected areas in the country. Of that number, the government, which is currently drafting a new mining policy, will declare 178 as eco-tourism zones, which will bar extractive industries from entering the areas.
“The priority land use in these areas is tourism,” Paje said. “We have agreed that these areas are no-mining zones,” Paje added.
He noted that the Aquino administration was supportive of the idea since it wants to bolster the country’s tourism industry. A few months ago, the Department of Tourism launched a campaign with a tag line “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” to entice more foreign tourists to come to the country.
Aside from the current 239 protected areas, Paje said, the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau has asked nine more areas to be included in the list.
The nine areas placed under the conservation area status are: Balbalan-Balbalasang National Park in the Cordillera Region, Zambales Mountains in Regions 1 and 3, Mounts Irid Angelo and Binuang in Region 4A, Polilio Group of Islands, also in Region 4A, Mt. Iglit Baco National Park in Region 4B, Mt. Nug as Lantoy in Region 7, Mt. Nacolod in Region 8, Mt. Hilong-hilong in Region 13, and Bongao Peak on Tawi-tawi Island.
The government’s move to delineate more protected areas came as the DENR, Silliman University, and the German aid agency GIZ reviewed the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 or NIPAS. They recommended in their NIPAS Review that the government streamline the steps in establishing protected areas and improve the fencing mechanism and buffer zones.
The review also said the current laws on protected areas and the Mining Act of 1995 were “in conflict” when it comes to areas that are open to mining and areas with protected status.
It explained that a mining area is automatically granted that status under the Mining Act. However, loopholes in the NIPAS law mandates that Congress has to declare a particular area as a protected site, which is an expensive and long process.
The review also noted that the present law was inadequate in giving protection to conservation areas and called for the inclusion of marine ecosystems in the definition of a protected area.
PAWB director Mundita Lim expressed worry that without an official declaration, mineral-rich ecosystems could be claimed by mining companies.
Many of the country’s parks have plenty of mineral deposits, she said. However, these areas are also rich in biodiversity and are home to indigenous people whose way of life could be disrupted by the entry of extractive industries.
According to the PAWB, the Balbalan-Balbalasang National Park is home to a wide variety of frogs and amphibians. Mt. Iglit Baco in Mindoro, aside from being the home of Mangyans, is also the home of the elusive tamaraw.
The Zambales mountain range, on the other hand, is the habitat of the cloud rat, a species native to the Philippines which is considered prey by large birds and fowl. The cloud rat may be revolting to some, but without it, the ecosystem of the Zambales mountains would be in disarray.