By Kitty Amante
Philippine environmental groups joined forces last 28-29 November 2016 to advance an enhanced forest law they say will provide a backbone in ensuring Philippine forest resources are responsibly and sustainably managed by present and future generations.
Organized by Haribon Foundation and Tanggol Kalikasan, Inc., the policy review aimed to revisit existing forest management policies, revise the proposed bill and develop strategies to galvanize concrete legislative action.
“Protecting natural forests is inevitable because of its ecological, social and economic importance. With our changing landscapes, the reason for hastening the passage of this law is no longer a simple matter on promoting proper utilization; it now becomes a race against time,” said Louie Ignacio, Public Advocacy manager for Haribon.
In a previous meeting, the group has identified that no clear plans were presented yet in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) agenda as for forest management priorities.
To this day, the 1975 Revised Forestry Code remains as the legislative basis for forest management and utilization. While it was amended several times, it still addresses problems of exploitation rather than conservation.
For over two decades, many other related bills were filed at the lower house including House Bills 50, 907, 1104, 1171, 12123, 1423 and 1893.
An Enhanced Forest Law
The Forest Resources Bill (FRB) is an alternative sustainable forest management policy by civil societies, which reflects their principles and experiences in biodiversity groundwork.
Unlike the Sustainable Forest Management Bill (HB 3580) that is focused on production forests and logging, the FRB seeks to put into light the need to ensure that the next generations will continue to benefit from our forests for many years to come.
During the bill review, Maria Belinda de la Paz, Haribon Chief Operating Officer, reiterates the Paris Agreement, stressing the need to ensure the integration of climate change mitigation and adaption components at all levels.
In the face of climate change impacts and natural disasters, the group lobbies for the inclusion of critical provisions that are essential to protect our remaining forest.
Fr. Pete Montallana from the Save Sierra Madre Movement cites how the mountain range has recently saved millions from an imminent disaster.
“When super typhoon Lawin (intl name: Haima) hit the North, it was the Sierra Madre mountains that weakened the force of what could be another typhoon catastrophe,” said environmental advocate and Franciscan priest Fr. Montallana.
From Category 5, Lawin was brought down to category 3 after slamming matchless against the longest mountain range in the country.
Among the other main stipulations in the forest resources act is the campaign on the functional definition of “forests”.
According to Haribon Foundation, the longstanding definition of the term forest adopted by the DENR is questionable. Forest is best described as not merely tree plantations but an ecosystem of different tree species sustaining varied plants and animal life. It is argued that the current forest definition “hides the real rate of deforestation and misleads people into complacency.”
FRB aims to protect natural forests and prioritize restoration of denuded forests. In the bill, participatory processes, community ownership and accountability comprise its important provisions.
“We need to incorporate check and balance and transparency if we want the track of poverty alleviation,” said Estacio Lim from Tanim Kalikasan, Inc.
Healthy forests mean a steady supply of food, medicine and shelter for wildlife. The group holds that the future of today’s forests counts on the support by champions and key decision makers.
Moving forward, the working group reconvenes in December for the final document and in preparation for next year’s groundwork.
Groups who participated in the policy review include representatives from various civil society organizations, the academe and related line agencies.
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