DENR, partners ‘defy’ Covid-19 pandemic for nature’s sake

By Catherine Teves

December 30, 2021, 3:33 pm

<p><em>PNA file photo</em></p>

PNA file photo

MANILA – Despite the lingering coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) this year undertook measures for better managing and conserving the country's environment and natural resources (ENR) while gaining along the way international recognition for guarding against lead, a toxic chemical element.
Among such efforts were setting new policies, establishing partnerships, enforcing relevant laws and regulations, as well as enhancing DENR's information and education campaign (IEC) since climate change and other threats are increasingly hounding ENR anywhere in the world.
"In this season of joy and beyond, let us do our best to give our people cleaner air to breathe, cleaner surroundings with reduced waste, ample refreshing water to drink, a healthy environment to enjoy and more productive natural resources for a provident and sustainable future," Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu urged DENR officials and employees nationwide through his 2021 message for the agency's traditional Christmas lights switch-on event.
Cimatu hopes the switching of the Christmas lights will inspire them to further perform their duties "with renewed vigor."
This year, Hamburg-based World Future Council conferred its Future Policy Award (FPA) on DENR for coming up with and successfully implementing DENR Administrative Order (DAO) 2013-24, the chemical control order (CCO), which prohibits the use of lead and lead compounds in paint and other products nationwide.
However, Cimatu assured that DENR would not rest on its laurels after emerging as among the five international 2021 recipients of FPA which recognizes international policies aimed at benefiting present and future generations.
Being chosen for the award "will inspire us to further strengthen implementation of our chemical control policy and to develop other policies to protect human health and the environment," he said.
According to WHO, sources of environmental lead contamination include mining, smelting, manufacturing and recycling.
The WHO said continued use of leaded paint, gasoline, and aviation fuel in some countries is also a source of contamination.
Lead adversely affects multiple systems in a person's body, the WHO warned.
To further guard against toxic chemical elements, the DENR issued this year DAO 2021-008 (CCO for Cadmium and Cadmium Compounds) and DAO 2021-009 (CCO for Chromium VI Compounds).
Cadmium and chromium VI compounds have various industrial applications but can adversely affect the environment and human health so there is a need to increase awareness about the availability of technically superior and safe alternatives to these elements, DENR's Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) said.
Making history
The DENR and EMB made history this year by being able to close all remaining illegal open dumpsites in the country to comply with the two decades old Republic Act 9003, otherwise known as the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act.
"This accomplishment mirrors the successful implementation of our Solid Waste Management Program, one of DENR’s 10 priority programs for intensified environmental protection," Cimatu said.
He reminded local government units (LGUs) concerned to rehabilitate the closed dumpsites without harming the environment.
The National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC), which Cimatu chairs, boosted the implementation of RA 9003 by finally coming up this year with the country's list of non-environmentally acceptable products (NEAPs).
Plastic straws and plastic coffee stirrers are the initial NEAPs in such a list.
The DENR is advocating the use of environment-friendly alternatives to both products and other NEAPs, which NSWMC will include in the list to help reduce the volumeof waste for disposal.
Recognizing increased use of face masks and other personal protective equipment around the country due to Covid-19, the DENR distributed to LGUs yellow trash bins where people can dispose of these items after use.
Disposing personal protective equipment (PPE) gears in the bins will help prevent spread of Covid-19 and contamination of land and water, the DENR said.
The EMB also announced requiring operators of treatment, storage, and disposal facilities to process and disinfect infectious waste materials they are handling.
Processing and disinfecting such materials are necessary so these may qualify as raw materials for co-processing in cement kilns, it said.
Global warming
The Philippines further strengthened its bid to comply with Montreal Protocol, the international agreement promoting protection of Earth's ozone layer through phasing out ozone-depleting substances (ODS) like hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HFCFs) that have high global warming potential.
In September, DENR and the UN Industrial Development Organization spearheaded the virtual kickoff of HCFC Phase-out Management Plan (HPMP) Stage II's second tranche which aims to help the Philippines further reduce its HCFC consumption.
Both partners cited HCFCs and several other ODS with high global warming potential aggravating Earth's warming.
Phasing out such ODS will not only save the ozone layer from further damage but is also a way of helping mitigate climate change, the partners said.
Ozone layer is the atmosphere's ozone molecule-dense portion that protects Earth from overexposure to ultraviolet radiation of the sun.
Impaired health, reduced plant, and fishing yields as well as damaged ocean ecosystems are among such overexposure's ill effects, experts said.
Scientists’ discovery of a hole in the ozone layer fueled international action on the matter  -- including UN member-countries' adoption of Montreal Protocol in 1987.
HPMP's implementing agency is United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the specialized UN agency promoting industrial development for poverty reduction, inclusive globalization and environmental sustainability, while DENR is the undertaking's lead government agency.
This month, the Philippines  -- through DENR -- joined other member-countries of intergovernmental organization Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA) in signing the Preah Sihanouk Ministerial Declaration.
Such a declaration aims to strengthen green recovery and ocean governance in East Asia, the DENR said.
"Through the declaration, the PEMSEA member-countries endorsed PEMSEA Roadmap to 2030 as the region’s decadal strategic guide anchored on  the Sustainable Development Strategy for the Seas of East Asia vision and commitment to blue economy," it added.
Continued rehabilitation
The government continued rehabilitation of Boracay Island, Manila Bay as well as Cagayan, Bicol, and Marikina rivers to improve environmental conditions.
The DENR-led Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force reported being on track to complete Boracay's rehabilitation by 2022.
Work to expand Manila Bay's dolomite beach is in progress so the government can open this area to the public next year, the DENR said.
Creating the beach is among activities for Manila Bay's rehabilitation which aims to make this water body fit again for contact recreation.
Authorities also aim to increase water-carrying capacity and facilitate water flow of Cagayan, Bicol and Marikina rivers so there will be a lower risk for these major channels to overflow during inclement weather and spill water that will flood surroundings.
Rehabilitation activities the government identified for such rivers include removing sediment and debris through dredging to improve water-carrying capacity and flow, as well as planting bamboo, particularly along the river banks to help prevent erosion.
Downpour from successive tropical cyclones in late 2020 caused water in Cagayan, Bicol, and Marikina rivers to overflow, spill into and flood surrounding areas, prompting creation of DENR-led multi-agency Build Back Better Task Force for the whole-of-government approach to post-disaster rehabilitation and recovery in the country's typhoon-affected areas.
Metal price
The country’s metallic mineral production value grew 22.34 percent to PHP121.16 billion in January to September this year from PHP99.03 billion in 2020, DENR's Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) said.
"Strong metal price coupled with better mine production of nickel ore during the review period was the vital factor for this development," it said.
The MGB added that prices of gold, silver, copper, and nickel remained bullish year-on-year.
The country's mining prospects remain upbeat as MGB said passage of critical policies this year "created an optimistic buzz in the minerals sector."
"Such policies include DAO 2021-12 (Guidelines for the Automatic Renewal of the Exploration Period and the Timely Filing of Declaration of Mining Project Feasibility Under the Exploration Permit, Mineral Production Sharing Agreement, Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement and similar mining tenements), EO 130 (Amending Section 4 of EO 79 series of 2012 Institutionalizing and Implementing Reforms in the Philippine Mining Sector, Providing Policies and Guidelines to Ensure Environmental Protection and Responsible Mining in the Utilization of Mineral Resources), DAO 2021-25 (Implementing Rules and Regulations of EO 130, Amending Section 4 of EO 79 series of 2012) and DAO 2021-29 (Extended Application Period for the Disposition of Residual Stockpiles)," it said.
As of Oct. 31 this year, the MGB said only about 2.48 percent of the Philippines' total land area of 30 million hectares were covered by mining tenements.
However, with EO 130 issuance, the government can again approve mineral agreements, it said.
The EO 130 lifted the moratorium on mineral agreements under Section 4 of EO 79.
Updating, amending 
The updating of MGB's geohazard maps continues so the public can access the latest information about flooding and rain-induced landslide risks around the country.
"As natural disasters bring great structural changes to Earth and impact lives of Filipinos, updating geohazard warnings is important in order to have widespread information on hazard susceptibility of areas," the MGB said.
The DENR Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) this year maintained its call for the government to amend RA 9147, otherwise known as the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act.
"RA 9147 must be urgently amended and strengthened as illegal wildlife trade (IWT) has become increasingly sophisticated and organized two decades after the law’s passage," the BMB said.
It said IWT in the country has already evolved into an industry valued at some PHP50 billion annually as crime syndicates involved in this illegal activity are exploiting loopholes in RA 9147.
Such loopholes include RA 9147's vague language as well as low fines and penalties that fail to deter IWT, it said.
"A  strong legal framework will improve enforcement mechanisms, strengthen inter-agency cooperation against IWT, and result in a more forceful and dynamic response to this transnational crime," it added.
The BMB is not discounting the possibility of IWT facilitating the transmission of disease-causing viruses and other pathogens from wildlife species to humans.
The 4th National Environment Law Enforcement (NELE) Summit this July produced a resolution supporting the enactment of a law that will create DENR’s Environmental Protection and Enforcement Bureau (EPEB). NELE participants came up with the resolution, noting the Philippines is both a biodiversity gem and hotspot.
The Philippines hosts about two-thirds of biodiversity on Earth, they said.
IWT, pollution, habitat destruction, illegal logging, and illegal mining are among factors degrading and depleting biodiversity nationwide, they added.
EPEB's creation will help DENR mount an increasingly science-based nationwide crackdown on environmental crimes.
The DENR said such a crackdown is necessary as environmental crimes are becoming more organized, sophisticated, and even transboundary.
The EPEB, which DENR aims to have, will facilitate capacity-building for enforcers concerned so they can better crackdown on environmental crimes.
Despite EPEB's absence, the DENR and its partner-agencies reported still being able to apprehend environmental violators and confiscate trafficked wildlife species, hot logs, and even equipment used in illegal quarrying.
Protecting wetlands
Cimatu sees a need for legislation aimed at protecting the country's wetlands.
"There has been no single Philippine legislation that advances wetland conservation and its wise use," he said.
Wetlands provide various ecological services so these ecosystems must be protected, conserved, and wisely utilized, he added.
Experts said among wetlands' services are natural water quality improvement, flood protection, and shoreline erosion control. Wetlands also provide opportunities for recreation and aesthetic appreciation.
Sasmuan Pampanga Coastal Wetlands this year gained the distinction of being the Philippines' eighth Ramsar site or wetland of international importance, the DENR said.
Cimatu considers such distinction a "landmark accomplishment that will become DENR’s motivation to further preserve and conserve protected areas and wetlands across the country.”
The Philippines' other Ramsar sites are Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area, Naujan Lake National Park, Negros Occidental Coastal Wetlands Conservation Area, Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park and Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park.
The DENR is partnering with telecommunications giant PLDT Inc. and its subsidiary Smart Communications Inc. to protect Caimpugan and other peatlands of Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary.
Protected areas
The BMB and Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Center this year formally agreed to work on developing PPPs that are appropriate for protected areas (PAs) nationwide.
Both agencies decided to establish policy guidelines that aim to ensure PPPs in PAs are aligned with sustainable development and biodiversity principles.
Some possible PA-based PPPs are eco-tourism and biodiversity-friendly enterprises, the PPP Center said.
PPPs are contractual arrangements between the government and the private sector so the latter can build, operate, and maintain infrastructure facilities and provide services that the former traditionally delivers.
PA refers to identified portions of land and water set aside because of their unique physical and biological significance, managed to enhance biological diversity and protected against destructive human exploitation, said RA 7586, otherwise known as the National Integrated Protected Areas System or NIPAS Act of 1992.
Forest interventions
This year, DENR and its Forest Management Bureau (FMB) spearheaded the launch of the Save Our Watershed (SOW) campaign.
Such a campaign aims to help further generate public support for protecting and conserving the country's watersheds as these provide various ecological services but are threatened by deforestation, pollution, inappropriate agricultural practices, and other factors.
SOW also aims to raise public awareness about and promote action for sustaining and even building on milestones of FMB's Forestland Management Project (FMP).
FMP covers forest and watershed interventions in Upper Magat and Cagayan river basin where Ifugao, Nueva Vizcaya, and Quirino provinces are Upper Pampanga river basin where Nueva Ecija province is, and Jalaur river basin where Iloilo province is.
Such a project is focusing on those river basins due to the extent of degradation there, the FMB said.
FMB and other agencies are encouraging the private sector to invest in Philippine forestry.
Guidebooks on the matter are available for potential investors in plantation development, cattle grazing, ecotourism, and other forestry-related development activities, the FMB said.
The Department of Trade and Industry believes private investments in industrial tree plantation development will complement efforts to improve products, industry, and value chain, the FMB said.
The National Economic and Development Authority sees the need to sustain knowledge-sharing as well as adapt innovations that will help optimize goods and services from forests, it said.
Reforestation through the nationwide DENR-led National Greening Program (NGP) continued despite Covid-19.
The latest available official FMB data show that since NGP launched in 2011, this program has already greened almost 2.10 million hectares of denuded land nationwide using around 1.8 billion tree seedlings.
The DENR launched NGP to help promote environmental stability and poverty alleviation, provide needed resources like timber and food, as well as enhance ecological services which include trees sequestration of greenhouse gas emissions that are raising the global temperature so climate is changing.
For its 2021 observance of Arbor Day and 158th year of Philippine forestry service, the FMB and various companies partnered on holding the virtual Bike, Hike, Plant+ tree-planting activity.
The companies were, Grab Philippines, Energy Development Corporation, Forest Foundation Philippines, M&S Company, Inc. and TreeDefi, the FMB said.
"A total of 777 bikers and hikers were able to complete approximately 90,515 kilometers of biking and hiking (plus walking and running), as verified by -- these are equivalent to 3,750 seedlings that will be planted in our partners’ conservation sites in Quirino, Albay, Quezon City, and Sultan Kudarat," it added.
ENR-related disputes
The DENR further expanded its pool of alternative dispute resolution officers (ADROs) to facilitate the settlement of ENR-related disputes.
Conduct of online comprehensive alternative dispute resolution (ADR) accreditation training program and mediation properly made such expansion possible despite Covid-19, DENR's Lands and Management Bureau (LMB) said.
"An additional 106 ADROs, divided into four batches, earned their accreditations in 2020 and 2021, bringing to 330 the number of DENR employees that were accredited as ADROs," LMB said.
DAO 2005-18 mandated the adoption of ADR principles and procedures in resolving appropriate ENR conflicts.
According to the DENR, resolving such conflicts through ADR has been successful.
"Since its rollout in the lands sector in 2018, a total of 1,020 cases have been referred for ADR as of Dec. 8, 2021 with some 281 cases still under ADR  proceedings," the LMB said.
LMB also said a total of 739 ADR cases "have been mediated during the period of which 321 disputes, or 43 percent of 739 cases, were settled while 418 others failed to reach a settlement."
Such percentage accomplishment is far better than the near-zero percent conflict resolution rate LMB had before adopting ADR, the bureau said.
The Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERDB) of DENR launched its pilot mentorship program.
This program aims to boost ERDB's capacity to produce, based on this bureau's studies, articles that can be published in 'Sylvatrop.'
'Sylvatrop' is DENR's official technical journal covering research findings on ecosystems and natural resources.
"Ten ERDB studies were selected for the pilot program," ERDB said.
Such studies are on germination, bioremediation, urbanization, solid and hazardous wastes, climate change, governance, and market chain analysis, it added.
ERDB also partnered with Batangas province's Lobo LGU on strengthening the protection and conservation of this municipality's natural resources.
Lobo watershed is the study site for pilot-testing valuation manuals on water, carbon, and tourism due to the intact ridge-to-reef ecosystem there, it said.
"In a study conducted by USAID along with NGOs and LGUs, the municipality was revealed to have the best-protected areas in the entire region of Batangas in 2013, 2015, and 2018," it added.
The Department of Tourism in 2015 declared Lobo municipality as an agro-ecotourism destination.
To enhance its IEC campaign, the DENR decided to begin including Filipino sign language interpreters in online lectures of this agency, so more people can learn about ENR.
The DENR said some of its IEC materials have braille versions already to help the blind understand the information they contain.
The BMB launched its family-friendly 'Samot-Sari' web series to teach children about Philippine biodiversity and its conservation, Cimatu said.
He said DENR also supports other IEC-related initiatives like the 'Our Fragile Earth' docu-series which features Philippine protected areas to educate the public about the importance of the country's biological heritage.
Covid-19 must not prevent learning so DENR continues to explore ways of using digital technology in disseminating ENR information, he said.
"We should not let Covid-19 hinder education of the next generation -- our teaching methods need to evolve to adapt to the constantly changing situation brought about by this pandemic," he added. (PNA)