The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) plans to hire more than a hundred lawyers to strengthen its legal muscle and speed up the resolution of lower level cases, including land claims and disputes.
In a statement, DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu said that each of the 140 Community Environment and Natural Resources Offices (CENROs) in the country should have at least one lawyer who will attend to cases that can be readily resolved at the community level.
“The CENROs are my frontliners. If the DENR succeeds or fails, it is because of our CENROs,” he said.
The environment chief said that assigning a full-time lawyer in every CENRO is crucial in improving the DENR’s capability to deliver “immediate and meaningful services at the community level.”
The move, Cimatu added, is in pursuant of President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive to reduce public inconvenience in doing transactions with government and cut bureaucratic red tape.
Cimatu noticed that the DENR’s regional offices and its central office in Quezon City are swamped with cases because the CENROs are not legally equipped.
“I believe most of the cases now awaiting resolution at the central and regional offices could have been already resolved at the municipal level had there been DENR lawyers stationed at the CENROs,” he added..
A total of 128 field lawyers are assigned in 16 DENR regional offices.
However, not a single field lawyer is assigned to any of the 140 CENROs and 74 Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Offices (PENROs).
Most of the 1,362 cases pending before the DENR central office involve land disputes, Cimatu said.
Apart from the lack of lawyers, CENROs are also faced with workload issues which jurisdictions cover about five to seven municipalities.
The DENR is now seeking approval from the Office of the Solicitor General and clearance from the Commission on Audit to hire lawyers.