Boosting environmental laws through EPEB

Apprehended mahogany lumber in Guimaras Island (left). A small scale mining located in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental (right).

The Philippines is a diverse country with rich ecosystems that serve as habitats of endemic species of flora and fauna.

These bountiful natural resources however, are facing challenges brought about by exploitation such as poaching, deforestation, land degradation through conversion for other usage, climate change, and pollution.

The task of environmental protection is gargantuan in scale and expanse. The Asian Development Bank estimated the amount incurred in illegal wildlife trade in the country at P50 billion a year.

In Region 6, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was able to apprehend and confiscate illegally transported forest products that amount to millions. Cases with other regions are far tougher.

Recognizing this threat, the Philippine government through the DENR is pushing for the creation of an Environmental Protection and Enforcement Bureau (EPEB) that shall pursue the stringent implementation of environmental laws, policies, rules and regulations.

The EPEB will be assisted by the military, police, the National Bureau of Investigation and government prosecutors.

Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu saw the need to form EPEB as the DENR lacks personnel similar to police, intelligence officers specifically handling enforcement.

“We have laws but we had a hard time implementing them,” Cimatu sid.

In giving the financial support it needs, Cimatu proposed funding increase for the Department which include P1.2 billion for the EPEB.

“With our own enforcement bureau, the DENR could effectively enforce environmental laws and protect its workers who have been vicious targets of illegal loggers and other environmental criminals,” he added.

On February 19-20, 2020, Iloilo City hosted the Strategic Planning Workshop on Environmental Protection and Enforcement.

Undersecretary for Enforcement and Muslim Affairs Jim O. Sampulna led the conduct of the workshop in order to review, assess and set policy directions in the implementation and presentation of the proposed bill that would create the Environmental Protection and Enforcement Bureau (EPEB).

The event gathered the Department’s undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, bureau directors, regional executive directors, assistant regional directors for technical services, PENRO’s, Chief Enforcement Division and Chairman of National Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee-Sub-Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (NALECC-SCENR) as participants.

The Bureau is seen to empower the arrest and prosecution of environmental criminals, apprehend and confiscate timber and forest products without license, and destroy illegal structures occupying forest lands without authority to include paraphernalia and conveyances.

It also aims to curb illegal mining, illegal logging, smuggling and trading of wildlife species and other environmental crimes that risk our biodiversity and destroys our protected areas, the habitat of the threatened species.

In Western Visayas, there are a total of 235 Lawin Patrollers, composed of forest rangers, forest protection officers, forest technicians and park foreman patrolling the timberland including the 14 protected areas, five are legislated and eight are under initial component of Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas (E-NIPAS).

The teams were able to patrol a total of 8,745.65 kilometers for CY 2019.

“Their presence in forest areas served as deterrence to illegal activities, which advanced the protection of our rich natural resources in the region,” DENR 6 Regional Executive Director Francisco E. Milla Jr. said.