Overshadowed by the coronavirus lockdown in the past three months was an ordinance passed by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan providing for a new mechanism of managing protected areas in Palawan.

Provincial Ordinance 2210, approved in February, provides for the creation of a Palawan Council for Protected Areas Management (PCPAM) and placing under its umbrella all the established protected areas in the province, with the exception of the Underground River which is under the independent jurisdiction of Puerto Princesa City.

The ordinance takes off from a valid intent of strengthening the management of protected areas. It however does not explain how this will be done, except that the chief executive of the province will be “empowered” to “effectively manage” these protected areas.

There is no record of debates that transpired at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to make some reference on the proposed nuts and bolts of the ordinance, at least none that the Palawan media that covers the chamber on a daily basis was able to properly document. It would have been instructive to know the view of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and even the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) on the policy legislation.

At the outset, Ordinance 2210 seemingly does away with the existing management framework governing protected areas in Palawan, which is essentially the same practice in all other protected areas throughout the country. The PCPAM essentially take the leadership away from the Protected Areas Management Boards (PAMB) and the Environmentally Critical Areas Network (ECAN) Boards the day-to-day management of protected areas.

Centralizing the management of parks to the provincial government can be counter-intuitive to the effective management of protected areas, especially when this new management approach lacks a clear management strategy that can be presumed to be much better than existing ones.

It wasn’t too long ago when the provincial government successfully managed to exempt Palawan from the coverage of the expanded National Integrated Protected Areas (NIPAS) bill passed by Congress, a measure that provided for the omnibus declaration of protected areas as national parks. Palawan policymakers wanted to do it on their own, invoking that Palawan already has RA 7611 or the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) law to follow.

Ordinance 2210 was a surprising turnaround, as it junks both the SEP law and the NIPAS law as the management strategy to guide Palawan’s protected areas.

RA 2210 is a piece of local legislation that needs more light. The intention of its framers and sponsors may be well and good, but its lacking in specifics does nothing to convince stakeholders of protected areas that this is a better way.