This month is the celebration of the 26th year of the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) for Palawan and it is but appropriate that pomp and circumstance attend to such a significant event. Beneath this celebratory atmosphere however, it is fitting to ruminate how much SEP has done for the province.
The SEP is a developmental strategy, construed with the end in view of protecting Palawan’s environment as a so-called Last Frontier. Touted as a pioneering and unique law, Republic Act 7611 is indeed as “special law” by its objectives.
The SEP is essentially a tool for planning. It provides that development should and must conform to certain conditions imposed by the natural environment. Under SEP, areas of land and water which are important for biodiversity conservation must be protected. They are called “no go” or “core” zones.
SEP provides that every nook and cranny of Palawan should be mapped and classified according to their proper uses. The classification should be done by experts, using scientific analysis as basis for judgment. For instance, areas that are natural forests should be protected at all costs. Marine ecosystems that are important to fisheries should be taken cared of. So on, and so forth. It also designates areas that may be utilized for resource exploitation to benefit the local economy.
The implementation of SEP has undergone scrutiny from various sectors, including the NGOs who have been reserved a seat in the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), the law’s main implementing body. Each month, the PCSD meets to deliberate on proposed projects that may impact on the environment, and decided whether it should accept or reject these. The Council also formulates policies designed to strengthen the implementation of the SEP strategy.
Such scrutiny has not escaped one observation that despite the virtues of SEP as a science-based strategy, its implementation leaves much to be desired. Institutionalizing decision-making protocols that adhere closely to the essence of SEP needs to be pursued. In many instances in the history of the PCSD, decisions such as changing the zoning maps, or the so-called Environmentally Critical Areas Network (ECAN) had to be revised to accommodate extractive activities.
In not a few occasions, the technical recommendations of the PCSD secretariat which undertakes project reviews in accordance to SEP guidelines and principles had been set aside by the PCSD with little justification on the basis for such reversals.
Perhaps it is needed at this time, as it has always been everytime we step back to celebrate the SEP Law for Palawan, that an honest and well-meaning review of SEP take place, with the goal not to malign the institution but to help it improve. That desire, however, should emanate from the PCSD itself and all the stakeholders of Palawan.
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