DENR report admits Philippines is way behind biodiversity protectionBy Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—In its first report in 20 years since the enactment of a law aimed to ensure the conservation of the country’s biodiversity, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) acknowledged that much has to be done even as there have been gains in its efforts in protected areas management.
The 48-page report entitled “Communities in Nature: State of Protected Areas Management in the Philippines” admitted that the country’s biodiversity has remained threatened.
It said: “Many scientists have expressed the concern that despite the significant gains in protected areas management, the Philippines is still losing its remaining forest and coastal ecosystems at an alarming rate.”
“In other words, the country is either not effective in conserving its resources, or not fast enough in protecting ecosystems at risk,” the report said.
Nonetheless, the DENR was able to establish “a system of protected areas for biodiversity conservation and has rehabilitated and restored degraded ecosystems,” according to DENR Secretary Ramon Paje.
Dr. Mundita Lim, national project director of the New Conservation Areas in the Philippines Project (NewCAPP), said the government might have been “slow” in addressing biodiversity conservation because there have been gaps in the identification of protected areas nationwide, funding constraints as well as the capacities and awareness gaps among people, including DENR employees themselves.
“Management is a problem itself. We want to sustainably manage the protected areas themselves,” said Lim, who is also the director of the DENR Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB).
She stressed the need for the participation of stakeholders, particularly the local governments, which could invest their money in conservation efforts.
“They know that if they invest in protected areas, the returns would be huge. Everything would come in later. There should be the recognition of the people of the value of biodiversity to them, even the national government. Once the national government recognizes that (biodiversity) is actually the foundation for development, they would invest more than what we are getting at the moment,” Lim said.
Between 2005 and 2009, the PAWB was allocated less than P1 million to support activities for protected areas system management, according to the report.
But Lim also said that recognizing the problems in protected areas management was already a “good step towards addressing (the issue).”
While he has yet to see the report, Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan of the conservation group WWF-Philippines told the Inquirer by phone that “generally, protected areas management is insufficiently funded.”
“There is much room for improved management and enforcement. The rules of the NIPAS ACAT have by and large proven to be cumbersome, throwing, in many cases, too many roadblocks that would allow for improved effective management,” he said.
He added: “The situation is a slope. There are protected areas that are truly called leaders globally in protected areas management while there are areas that are laggards in protected areas management.”
Tan said that among the successes were the Tubbatha Reef in Palawan and the Mt. Iglit-Baco National Park in Mindoro Occidental, which has been home to the endangered tamaraw, while much can be done for the Penablanca protected area in Cagayan, the Agusan Marsh in Agusan del Sur, and even Mt. Makiling in Laguna.
“There should be a sense of ownership among the people… Governance is not government… It is the quality of local ownership, seeing private sector interest, support, and money (in the protected areas management),” Tan said.
One of the 17 mega-diverse countries, the Philippines hosts about 70 to 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity. Ironically, it is also one of the hottest biodiversity hotspots in the world.
Two decades after the implementation of the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS), a total of 240 protected areas have been established, covering 5.4 million hectares of land and sea. Of the figure, the total land area consists of 13.6 percent and only 0.64 percent of the country’s vast marine territory.
Eventually, 228 key biodiversity areas covering 7.6 million hectares, including 128 terrestrial and 100 marine sites, were identified.
The report said key biodiversity areas were “habitats of 209 globally threatened species,” among others.
“Since many of the (protected areas) were established long before the (key biodiversity areas) were identified, only about 35 percent of the key biodiversity areas are deemed protected by law. That is, about 65 percent of the country’s key biodiversity areas still lack protection through the NIPAS,” Lim said.
The report noted the lack of a systemic data on the impact of the protected area management system on “whether there is improvement in biophysical condition of (protected areas), quality of life of communities, or increased benefits to the country.”
According to the report, the fact that protected areas are the “host communities—even entire municipalities—presents a “unique challenge” in biodiversity protection
Lim said the DENR intended to come up with a report on the state of the protected areas management every two years.
The first report came out in time for the 11th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Hyderabad, India, next week.
The report was prepared with the support of the United Nations Development Programme, the Ateneo School of Government, the University of the Philippines, and the Philippine Tropical Forest Conservation Foundation Inc., among others.