The non-government organization Greenpeace Philippines has expressed concern over the lifting of suspension for the issuance of special use agreement for protected areas (SAPA), claiming it will open protected areas (PAs) to exploitation.
“Greenpeace is very concerned over this development, and we fear that this move will do nothing but open the protected areas to exploitation,” said Vince Cinches, Greenpeace Southeast Asia – Philippines political campaigner, on Tuesday, May 8.
Secretary Roy A. Cimatu announced Friday, May 4, that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) now accepts SAPA applications following the lifting of an indefinite suspension for its issuance.
“Now that the suspension has been lifted, the DENR can guarantee that individuals, groups and companies can once again apply for the special use of the PAs,” Cimatu said in a news release.
SAPA is a tenurial instrument issued to enable productive use of a PA as defined under Republic Act No. 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992, while maintaining its status as a PA.
Among the objectives of SAPA is the utilization of a protected area’s “ecosystem services” to generate revenues that can be utilized for its improved management and operations, thereby reducing the financial burden of the national government to fund these areas.
“SAPA also serves as a regulatory tool for increased resource use beyond carrying capacity and increasing local economic opportunities, such as increased local employment from ecotourism establishments,” Cimatu said.
In Palawan, SAPA is specifically sought by tourism establishments in El Nido, which forms part of the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area.
“It’s all favorable to us. That would pave the way to have a legitimate tenurial instrument on our occupation and operation of our business establishments founded on a timberland classified parcel of land. At the same time, the DENR can collect revenue thru SAPA,” Henri Fernandez, president of the Cottages, Resorts and Restaurants Association of El Nido, told Palawan News.
With the lifting, the DENR resumes enforcement of Department Administrative Order (DAO) No. 2007-17 or the rules and regulations governing the issuance of the tenurial instrument for PAs.
Cimatu also signed DAO 2018-05, which provides for the standard computation of development fees imposed on SAPA recipients. SAPAs’ issuance was indefinitely suspended sometime in 2011 due to the absence of this.
Cinches, however, said the lifting is tantamount to selling PAs out to businesses.
“We would like to remind the Philippine government that our environment is not for sale. The environment does not belong to businesses that only seek to suck it dry with profit, but rather it belongs to the future generations, according to the Oposa vs. Factoran Supreme Court decision on intergenerational responsibility to a healthy and balanced ecology,” he said.
Cinches asserted that SAPA goes against the very essence of RA 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 1992.
“The revival of SAPA is in violation of the spirit or general objectives of the NIPAS, and will only enrich a few, worsen the current environmental problems and poverty situation in the Philippines,” he said.
The utilization of some of the country’s protected areas, Cinches noted, presently do not have a General Management Planning Strategy (GMPS), as required by Rule 10 of DENR Administrative Order 2008-26.
“That is why even current protected areas are still being ravaged by destructive human activities such as mining, quarrying, fishing, farming, and general disregard for environmental protection laws. It was the reason why SAPA was suspended in the first place because this violates the NIPAS law,” he said.
Nonetheless, Cinches said it is important to note that human activities are still allowed in the identified buffer zones of PAs, as long as these would not impair the integrity of the strict protection zone.
“In some protected areas with GMPS, allowable human activities are not enumerated, because all activities are subjected to clear impact assessment,” he added.
As of 2013, there are 240 protected areas covering 5.45 million hectares under NIPAS, according to the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB).
“These encompass 14.2 percent of the total area of the country, and include 4.07 million hectares of terrestrial (13.57 percent of total area of the country) and 1.38 million hectares of marine areas (0.63 percent of total area of the country). About 26 percent of the country’s remaining forests are found in protected areas,” DENR BMB’s guidebook reads.