SOURCE: Press and Public Affairs Bureau
The House of Representatives has approved on second reading a measure that provides for the conservation, reforestation, and rehabilitation of mangrove forests in the Philippines.
House Bill 5609 prohibits the cutting, uprooting or destroying of any mangrove tree, dumping of waste within mangrove reservation areas, construction or reclamation activity within mangrove reservation areas, or any other acts that will result in the damage or destruction of mangrove forests.
Violators shall be fined with not less than P200,000 but not more than P1 million, or with imprisonment for not less than six months but not more than six years, or both, and may also require to restore or compensate for the restoration of the damage, as determined by the court.
The bill substituted House Bills 460, 3525, and 4206 authored by Reps. Agapito Guanlao (Party List, BUTIL), Regina Reyes (Lone District, Marinduque) and Susan Yap (2nd District, Tarlac), respectively.
"The measure seeks to improve our marine ecosystems, ensure the food security of our people, preserve our biodiversity and prevent the extinction of various mangrove species, thus reduce disaster risks making our people resilient to the impacts of climate change, storm surges and tsunamis," Yap said.
Citing a report of Global Forest Watch, Yap, chairperson of the House special committee on reforestation, said the world lost 192,000 hectares of mangroves from 2001 to 2012, a total loss of 1.38 percent since 2000 or 0.13 percent annually. She also cited an assessment conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature stating that more than one in six mangrove species are at risk of becoming extinct.
She said the bill is very timely because mangroves can contribute to climate change mitigation due to their enormous carbon-storage potential, which is said to be higher than ordinary trees. "An Earth Watch study reported that a hectare of mangroves can sequester 1.36 tons of carbon in a year which is equal to the emissions of six cars per year," Yap said.
Yap said the country's experience with Typhoon Yolanda highlighted the important role that mangroves play as natural bio-shields for vulnerable coastal communities. "Mangrove forests provide protection against storm surges as well as tsunamis. A mangrove stand of 30 trees per 0.01 hectare with a depth of 100 meters can reduce the destructive force of a tidal wave by up to 90 percent," Yap said.
According to Yap, the allocation for mangrove rehabilitation under the National Greening Program has been increased from P347 to P1 billion in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda.
"However, the National Greening Program is ending in 2016, and without sufficient funding, all our efforts to rehabilitate the mangrove forests in the country cannot be sustained beyond 2016," Yap said.
The measure shall establish and set aside all coastal areas in each municipality portions of land solely for the conservation, protection, reforestation and rehabilitation of mangrove forests.
Under the measure, the local government units (LGU's), together with the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) local office, where the mangrove areas will be located, shall take the lead in the identification, survey, zonification and mapping of all mangrove areas, segregating areas that are still forested, severely denuded or degraded including abandoned, undeveloped and underutilized fishponds.
All natural stands of mangrove forests and regenerating abandoned ponds shall automatically form part of the reservation areas.
Attached to the DENR, a National Steering Committee for the Conservation and Rehabilitation of Mangrove Forests (NSCCRMF) shall be established, to review existing policies and conduct studies on mangrove forest and its conservation, among its powers and functions.
A National Mangrove Forests Conservation and Rehabilitation Plan (NMFCRP) shall be formulated by the National Steering Committee (NSC) which contain an inventory of the status of all mangrove forests all over the country, fishponds, identification of mangrove reservation areas for each province, city and municipality, and operational plan for rehabilitation, among others.
The measure shall also establish a Local Steering Committee for the Conservation of Mangrove Forests (LSCCRMF), with Local Mangrove Forests Conservation and Rehabilitation Plan, as well.
In order to secure the mangrove reservation area from illegal and destructive activities, the Local Steering Committee (LSC) and the LGU shall employ the services of forest guards or LGU's deputize members of people's organizations as mangrove reservation area forest guards who shall be tasked with the responsibility to guard and police the areas.
The DENR shall formulate and institute appropriate mechanisms for proper valuation and fair and comprehensive pricing of ecosystems services provided by mangrove forests, which shall be the basis of the Local Steering Committee for charging on the use of the ecosystem services such as eco-tourism, permits for fishing boats, docking fees and carbon trading.
Created Special Account for Mangrove Management and Mangrove Conservation and Rehabilitation Fund shall be managed by the National Steering Committee (NSC) and its disbursement shall be made solely for the protection, maintenance, administration, and management of mangrove forest areas, operational expenses of the NSC, and for the expenses on the preparation of the National Mangrove Forests Conservation and Rehabilitation Plan (NMFCRP), duly approved projects endorsed by the NSC.
Other co-authors are Reps. Aleta Suarez (3rd District, Quezon), Deogracias Ramos, Jr. (2nd District, Sorsogon), Gary Alejano (Party List, MAGDALO), Joseph Stephen Paduano (Party List, ABANG LINGKOD), Maria Valentina Plaza (1st District, Agusan Del Sur), Victor Yu (1st District, Zamboanga Del Sur), Xavier Jesus Romualdo (Lone District, Camiguin) Raymond Democrito Mendoza (Party List, TUCP) and Mylene Garcia- Albano (2nd District, Davao City).