That E-NIPAS Bill of Sen. Loren Legarda is becoming famous for the wrong reason. It is being talked about, not so much about its intrinsic merit, but because of its lack of dialogue and engagement with the stakeholders of Palawan’s five protected areas. Critics of the Legarda measure maintain that a bill of that scope and magnitude should have been brought to the ground for information, consultation and discussion. As of now, the Bill is already bound to the House-Senate Conference Committee where its provisions will be reconciled with a similar House Bill of which Cong. Erick Abueg is among its co- authors. Stripped of its legislative verbiage, both measures have the same intent to strengthen the protection of our national parks by providing adequate mechanism for its sustainability. The House Bill, however, does not include our five protected areas in its coverage. That is its most visible feature.
But as far as Palawan is concerned, the crux of the matter is whether those measures are indeed necessary. Our unique special law, RA 7611 (SEP LAW) provides for a comprehensive zonation of land as basis for the strategic environmental plan for Palawan. Areas within the declared national parks fall within the purview of the SEP Law. Various national laws, in fact, have recognized the primacy of this law in Palawan. The Wild life Act, the Caves Act and the Chainsaw Act mandate PCSDS to implement its provisions in the province and in The City of Puerto Princesa.
Given the raging debate as to which version of the NIPAS measures is best for Palawan, it may not be too late in the day, to propose the amendment of RA 7611 to convert PCSD from an essentially planning council to a regulatory body, with ample power to effectively manage our five protected areas. Why not a “Palawan Sustainable Development Authority” which could rationalize the various special bodies running our protected areas? This may even be faster than passing a site specific law for every protected area in the province. The Tubbataha experience teaches us that getting that special law will almost take a decade.
It’s about time our three representatives in Congress get their acts together and work feverishly on this one. They could shepherd the measure all through the Lower House and get it to the Senate where we will need a Senator to champion it. Who knows, Sen. Legarda may just be too willing to embrace the measure and fight for its enactment. This could be her one big act for Palawan, which she professes as her favorite province. Sen. Legarda, Cong. Abueg, Cong, Alvarez, Cong Hagedorn – all working in harmony – That would be the day!