As defined in the NIPAS (National Integrated Protected Areas System) Act of 1992, protected areas refer to “identified portions of land and water set aside by reason of their unique physical and biological significance, managed to enhance biological diversity and protected against destructive human exploitation (RA No. 7586).”
But beyond the legal definition, let us not forget that primarily, these are natural ecosystems that provide life-giving services.
We live in a megadiverse country – we share our home with numerous unique species and yet we are gradually losing them, our forests, coral reefs and other ecosystems. In the last several decades, our forests have been in steady decline.
From the original forest cover of 27 million hectares, only 7.2 million hectares remain. Based on the DENR-Forest Management Bureau’s 2011 records, the loss is equivalent to 19.2 million hectares (PTFCF, “Status of Philippine Forests”, 2015).
Similarly, coastal and marine ecosystems that provide fishery resources that serve as the main source of protein for a majority of Filipinos are also in decline due to unsustainable fishing practices. The potential annual reef fishery production of 350,000 tons was reduced to an estimated annual production of only 177,500 tons in the 1990s (Alcala and Russ, 2002). In addition, based on the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources’ Philippine fisheries profile, total fisheries production declined by 5.6%, from 5 million metric tons in 2009 to 4.7 million metric tons in 2013 (DA-BFAR, 2014). These coastal and marine ecosystems also provide livelihood and a source of income. The Danajon Bank, the double barrier reef in Southeast Asia, provides an annual net benefit of US$ 3,057,824 in terms of tourism, from fisheries may reach as high as US$ 2,070, 021, and shoreline protection with US$ 150,393 (Samonte et al 2016).
There is overwhelming evidence that natural ecosystems maintain ecosystem services that are essential for life on Earth. They influence weather by controlling rainfall and evaporation of water from soil. They help stabilize the world’s climate by storing large amounts of carbon that would otherwise contribute to climate change. Forests also host a variety of animal and plant species endemic to the country. In other words, forests are extremely valuable in themselves (“From Dominion to Conservation”, Haribon Position Paper, CY. 2008).
The urgency in passing the Expanded NIPAS Bill or ENIPAS is evident as our present regime of laws is not sufficient to address the current environmental issues and ensure continued provision of ecological services to the country. For years, Philippine laws on forests focused on the forest as a resource for utilization and exploitation (“From Dominion to Conservation”, Haribon Position Paper, CY. 2008). It is our position that such an outdated concept needs revamping. In addition, Philippine population hit the 100 million mark in 2014. This means increased demand for water and greater pressure on our natural ecosystems and its ecosystem services (Magbanua, L., “Trapping Rains Like Forests Do”, Haribon Foundation, 2015).
In the Business Mirror article by Paul Donovan in 2011, he defines environmental credit as the ‘excessive use of the world’s finite resources that we are already borrowing the resources allocated for our children’. When “we can no longer use tomorrow’s standard of living to raise today’s standard of living” is what he calls the credit crunch. In other words, our current lifestyle has resulted in the massive exploitation of natural resources that we have extracted beyond what has been allocated for our generation (de la Paz, B., “Overdrawing from our Environmental Future”, Haribon Foundation).
Oftentimes our aspirations for a better quality of life, sadly, purport that we take more from the environment. For whatever credit we draw from our environmental future, it is imperative that we pay this loan including interest. The passage of the ENIPAS Bill will be a huge achievement as it is recognition of the importance of ecological services offered by natural ecosystems that provide for our basic needs, build resilience, combat climate change, and ultimately ensure the survival of the Filipino. If this bill does not get passed immediately, it will become a tragedy of life and the consequences may be irreversible.
We only have one planet. There can be no life when we destroy life itself. Let us choose life. Let us choose to protect our protected areas. Let us pass the ENIPAS Bill now.