TOPICS from how bills get passed in congress to information regarding the status of Philippine forests were discussed during the latest Haribon Meets U (HMU) on February 18 at the foundation’s headquarters in Cubao, Quezon City.
HMU is a set of informal meet ups designed to update Haribon members with the latest in environmental topics and even policy actions that the foundation takes part in.
The talk provided a glimpse into the challenges of passing environmental legislation, particularly that of the Forest Resources Bill (FRB) with key provisions on protection of remaining natural forests. Citing DENR figures, Philippine forest cover is down to a fourth its size com¬pared to forest cover in the 1900s. This is merely half of what is required to maintain ecological services in the country, which is at 54 percent according to “The Philippine Forest Ecosystem in Baseline Assessments” by P. Sajise and N. Tapay.
Given the situation, Haribon’s Chief Operating Officer Maria Belinda De La Paz effectively impressed upon the Haribon members present the importance of the FRB via slides, maps, and her own personal experiences in forest conservation work. At one point during her talk, she referred to a map of a location in Quezon province showing encroachment into what was once un-touched natural forest over a number of years.
She talked about provisions in the FRB that include the use of the functional definition of forest, referring to forests as an “ecosystem” rather than what current definitions used by the DENR reflect: a mere collection of trees in at least half a hectare or land. Both the National Land Use Act (NLUA) and the Alternative Minerals Management Bill (AMMB) use the functional definition of forest.
De La Paz also shared with members Haribon’s involvement in pushing for another bill in congress, the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System or E-NIPAS. This bill aims to strengthen an already existing bill, the NIPAS Act. Despite being passed in 1992, there are only 13 specific laws established under NIPAS. The E-NIPAS law however is expected to provide legal basis for the protection of 101 protected areas.
The Philippines today may be world-renowned for its coral reefs, unique wildlife, and picturesque natural environments, but this will change if these bills are not passed in time.
“We have existing Executive Orders and Presidential Proclamations for our protected areas, except that there aren’t enough funds being allocated. With the E-NIPAS these sites will benefit from the funding mechanism established under NIPAS for its proper management,” adds De la Paz.
If passed, the FRB would become the Forest Resources Act, ensuring the best protection of our water and food sources, for communities in upland and forested areas, and it would conserve the precious and unique biodiversity of the Philippines.
An integral part of Haribon since its formation in 1972, Haribon membership transforms regular citizens into biodiversity champions. They protect, conserve, and save biodiversity while forming lasting friendships with other environmental advocates. Be a Haribon member today and attend the next HMU.
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