Why protected areas matter
On June 22, the President signed the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (ENIPAS) Act into law as RA 11038.
This amends the 26-year old RA 7586 which established the “National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) in the country.
This statute covered “outstandingly remarkable areas and biologically important public lands that are habitats of rare and endangered species of plants and animals, biogeographic zones and related ecosystems, whether terrestrial, wetland or marine.”
Giving these biodiverse lands and waters the status of a “protected area” is a mechanism to ensure that these vulnerable habitats and the species they host are protected through focused management and engaged citizen participation.
It is a recognition that humans can, have and do impact the environment they are in and whose activities must be regulated when in these unique and biologically rich areas.
Protected Areas are important because of the following reasons: “They safeguard many of the world’s outstanding areas of biodiversity, natural beauty and cultural significance.
They help to maintain the diversity of ecosystems, species, genetic varieties and ecological processes, which are vital for the support of life on Earth.
They protect the genepool necessary for meeting human needs, for example in agriculture and medicine.
They are often home to communities of people with traditional cultures and irreplaceable indigenous knowledge of natural history.
They have major scientific, educational, cultural, recreational and spiritual value.
They provide major direct and indirect benefit to local and national economies. They can often play a major role in the implementation of sustainable development activities.”
Likewise, protected areas are said to be natural solutions to responding to climate change.
They help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and even help in mitigating the impacts of climate change.
Under RA 11038, more than 100 protected areas are now accorded the needed stability as a national law can provide and these include the Tanon Strait Protected Seascape which covers the provinces of Cebu, Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental, the Camotes Island Protected Landscape and Seascape, and the Olango Wildlife Sanctuary, both of which are in Cebu.
The ENIPAS Act of 2018 is intended to strengthen the management of our unique and biologically significant areas and the wildlife that they host and the communities that rely on them for sustenance, support and survival.
The powers and responsibilities of the Protected Area Management Board, as the highest policy-making body in a protected area, and the Park Superintendent as the principal enforcer and manager, are given clarity.
Likewise, local and national authorities who are in dereliction of their duties or violate the provisions of the law can be held accountable such as perpetual disqualification from holding public office.
Fines and penalties for prohibited acts are increased.
There is a compelling need for all to be aware of the features of the new law.
Most important, the communities and the public in general should participate in decision-making in ensuring that our protected areas are truly protected.
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