An article from the Palawan News speaks of the confusion of the residents of El Nido over the proposed Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (ENIPAS). This “Legarda Law” made it on the third and final reading at the Senate, and is now pending at the House of Representatives for concurrence. In effect it amends the NIPAS law and declare into national parks via one legislative action the 113 initial component protected areas declared by virtue of presidential proclamations. In Palawan, five areas are covered, namely: El Nido Managed Resource Protected Area, Mt. Mantalingahan Protected Landscape, Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, Rasa Island Wildlife Sanctuary and Malampaya Sound Protected Landscape. In total, it covers more or less 313,500 hectares of Palawan land across 10 municipalities, including Puerto Princesa City.
Declaring these areas as national parks provide stricter protection and funding support from the national government for conservation, management and technical support, and scientific studies. A multi-sectoral management group called Protected Area Management Bureau Board (PAMB) will be formed to create and implement a management plan for each protected area to ensure the implementation of governing laws, and to issue clearances to residents or local government for land use.
The downside, however, is that with the declaration is the classification of these areas into national parks—regardless of its actual physical status and current classification. In effect, a landowner or a local government loses its prerogative to develop its territory without the approval of PAMB. A resident who inherits his land from his ancestors and hopes to leave the same land as inheritance to his son, can no longer hope to hold a certificate of title of said land. Have you seen online the proposed covered areas? The whole defined block will be beyond the commerce of man! It’s as if someone just decided to skip research and draw an extended boundaries around the protected areas without considering that people and communities may be actually thriving there.
As an observer, it is as if the fate of the affected residents is decided and sealed by lawmakers who may have not even set foot at the place. There is ”backwardness” on its premise. Instead of checking out the areas and take note of the existing “human life” (pun intended), I wonder why actual survey and inventory will only happen after a year(s) of implementation. I mean— why? What’s the hurry? What’s the agenda? Is human element the least of our concerns? Are we ready to displace and starve thousands of people there to provide nest to the birds? If my arguments are wrong, then it only proves to show the need for extensive public consultation.
The Need for Public Consultation
Apparently, there was no prior consultation conducted among the affected residents of the aforementioned barangayas. The current effort of 1st District Congressman Franz Alvarez and the Provincial Government specifically the Sangguniang Panlalawigan in conducting last-minute consultation is futile to say the least since the law, as mentioned, has gone this far. We cannot find fault, though, against these “efforts of amends“ of our local legislators as the initiative should have come from the proponents of the bill, and should have been amongst its first journeys. What is needed now is for the proponent itself to pause from its seemingly “hurried” process and decide to begin at the basic yet crucial process of public consultations to present the pros and cons and clear surfacing presumptions—which are all political in nature—both against the proponents and decrying parties.
The term “national park” sounds cute and noble, but living in a “national park” may be quite terrifying for people who are not aware with the details of law. A protected area is one thing; a national park completely another. By law definition, a national park “refers to a forest reservation essentially of natural wilderness character which has been withdrawn from settlement, occupancy or any form of exploitation except in conformity with approved management plan…” The proponent should explain how this declaration and definition will apply or be implemented to the affected areas, as the coverage encompasses thriving communities, with public school system, agricultural activities, trade and commerce, and a national highway. It has to be explained how the declaration will affect the lives of the people—if farmers can continue to till their lands, if fishermen can continue to fish at seas, if a newlywed can still erect a hut within a family estate, if the government can continue to strengthen roads connecting farms to market, children to school, sick to hospitals, and so on.
What to become of our SEP Law?
I feel strongly against these people who think they know Palawan better than Palaweños themselves if they propose to implement a law that in effect repel our very own and special law for sustainable development at these identified protected areas. This is not a “one-size-fits-all” scenario. The Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) law of Palawan has been the bible of our land use, zoning and development plan. This law is a product of 13 years of experience, research and intellects of very Palaweños, from the proponents of Palawan Integrated Area Development Project Office (PIADPO) and the geniuses and commitment of our former statespersons Speaker of the House of Representative Ramon V. Mitra and 1st District Congressman David A. Ponce de Leon. Again, I wonder if the authors of this proposed law even bothered to check the community profiles of these protected areas.
A comment was made that the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS), the implementer of SEP law, has become a “one-man team” that deteriorates the confidence to the institution in protecting our environment above the protection of vested interests. I’d say, the system is not our enemy—whether its PCSDS or PAMB—but ourselves. Unless we reset our culture and stand for discipline, ownership, accountability and responsibility, no system will work flawlessly in the long run.
Post Script Disclaimer
I am pro-environment as I am pro development. I hold strongly to God’s blessings at Genesis 1:28 wherein he commands His people to be fruitful and multiply and to rule over His creations for sustenance. We are encouraged to embrace sustainable development through responsive use, not to shrink back and put to display His creations while His people starve.
As I commend the intentions of the authors of this bill in taking precautionary measures to further protect these areas, which are already under protection, yet it is only fitting to allow the residents and local governments to be heard and hear all sides of this bill. The lives of the people in these areas will never be the same again once the law hits full implementation. At least provide them full disclosure of what they are signing in for