Sen. Cynthia A. Villar has committed to pursue more legislation in the Senate to protect more forest lands and secure more protected areas (PAs) in the country.
As chairperson of the Senate Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change, Villar led last January 11 the hearing on bills seeking to declare the Tugbo Natural Biotic Area in Masbate as a protected area, and to reclassify into agricultural land a portion of the Mangabul Forest Reserve in Bayambang, Pangasinan.
“The Tugbo Natural Biotic Area, under consideration today, is the seventh protected area we hope to pass within this 18th Congress,” said Villar during the hearing.
The area serves as the primary water source of the locality, and is home to various endemic flora and fauna, including vulnerable wild bird species.
Meanwhile, Villar said the proposed conversion of a portion of the Mangabul Forest Reserve as an alienable and disposable land will “promote social justice” as it will benefit the long-term farmer-occupants of the area.
“We aim to strike a balance between affording social justice and the conservation and the restoration of our forest ecosystem,” she added.
Villar pushed for the passage of the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas Systems (E-NIPAS) Act of 2018, which strengthened the legal framework for the establishment, management and maintenance of all designated protected areas in the country, or those that are identified to be ecologically rich and biologically important public lands.
The law is a landmark because it facilitated the legislation of 94 more PAs, in addition to the 13 PAs individually legislated under the operation of the original NIPAS law.
“It brought the country’s total legislated protected areas to 107 with a total of 4,382,568.69 hectares. However, while 107 is already a staggering number, based on the records and suitability assessments by the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) of DENR, there are still numerous sites in the country that have yet to be given protected area status by legislative action, to ensure their conservation,” related Villar.
This is why in the present 18th Congress, the senator said they have already passed bills covering five more protected areas under the E-NIPAS, with the measures to be transmitted to the Office of the President for approval and enactment.
These are for the Mt. Pulag Protected Landscape in Benguet; the Banao Protected Landscape in Kalinga Province; the Tirad Pass Protected Landscape in Ilocos Sur; the Mt. Arayat Protected Landscape in Pampanga; and the Naga-Kabasalan Protected Landscape in Zamboanga Sibugay.
A sixth bill, the Sicogon Island Wildlife Sanctuary bill, is pending second reading in the Senate plenary.
“We hope to pass it also on 3rd reading upon the resumption of session next week,” Villar said.