By Severino C. Samonte

Why do we need a National Environmental Protection Agency?

To avoid the destruction of the country’s protected and heritage sites for tourism purposes, there is a need for the government to create a National Environmental Protection Agency or NEPA separate from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

This suggestion was made by the widow of former Senator and Environment Secretary Heherson T. Alvarez in the wake of what she considered as “the horrendous assault on a protected area, the Chocolate Hills in Bohol, recognized as a geological monument” and first geopark in the Philippines by the UNESCO or the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Mrs. Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, a UNESCO Artist for PEACE awardee and Earth Savers‘ Dreams Ensemble director, deplored “the amazing existence of the construction and operation of a resort at Chocolate Hills without an Environmental Compliance Certificate.”

She said: “One wonders how many more protected areas are defiled. Also observed the absence of basic coordinated hearing among all constituency sectors.”

According to her, immediate action for reparation and restoration is essential to avoid the possible challenge of delisting from being a heritage site or from being branded with a UNESCO-designated honor realized after years of tedious study and verification.

“We must remember, any honor has the concomitant responsibility of guaranteeing the integrity of the honor bestowed to a country, province or city. We are glad the collective voice of protest has been registered by the Senate Committee on Environment and Climate Change headed by Senator Cynthia Villar, who already filed a resolution for an investigation, while Interior and Local Government Secretary Benhur Abalos has organized an oversight technical team,” Mrs. Alvarez said.

“Nobody is above the law, and that must be executed with diligence without favor to anyone. President Bongbong Marcos has committed at several United Nations meetings to promote sustainable tourism while actualizing our fulfillment of the Social Development Goals (SDGs) 2023 agenda linked to the Paris Climate Accord,” she added.

In a letter to the Manila Times Opinion editor last March 27, she said that in 1987, when then Senator Heherson Alvarez assumed chairmanship of the Senate Environment committee, his concern was to provide the pioneering voice of defusing the ecological time bomb of global warming as the world now suffers climate catastrophes. He crafted and sponsored the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 1992.

“I recall he pointed out that the DENR has an identity crisis, a conflict of interest ingrained in its function that naturally favors creating wealth through resource development, sacrificing its regulatory function of biodiversity-ecosystem protection, which needs police power so this will ensure the rule of law prevails in granting permits, supervising pollution control causing deforestation and wanton industrialization polluting our water bodies, land, air with black carbon and destroying heritage sites. Circuitous breakage of restrictive barriers must be prevented.

“Thus, Senator Alvarez pushed in the Senate a bill detaching the Environment Management Bureau from the DENR through the passage of an independent National Environmental Protection Agency as the watchdog for Mother Earth.

“Unfortunately, like the anti-political dynasty bill, it could not gather the majority support,” lamented Mrs. Alvarez, who is also a Ramon Magsaysay Foundation award recipient in 1972 and founder of the Philippine Educational Theater Association or PETA.

“We at the Philippine Center of the International Theater Institute, currently led by former Senator Joey Lina, with the Earth Savers now headed by Consul General Fernando Peña, are ready to assist in an effective culture-based information campaign to fill the communication gap of engaging all citizens to be aware of their rights and duties to care for creation. Neither ignorance of the law nor insensitive execution of the law is an excuse for non-compliance with the law.

“It is important to have continuous diligent monitoring and transparent review of needs and conditions, besides excising the culture of corruption and promoting a dedicated public service mindset to achieve peace, justice, truth, and freedom geared toward a unified effort to unlock the gridlock of poverty.

“As Senator Alvarez’s widow, I re-echo his clarion call: Urgent action now to save tomorrow for the survival of mankind and our common home, planet Earth.”


About the Columnist

Image of Severino C. Samonte

He began his journalistic career by contributing to the Liwayway and Bulaklak magazines in the 1960’s. He was the night editor of the Philippine News Service when Martial Law was declared in September 1972. When the Philippine News Agency was organized in March 1973, he was named national news editor because of his news wire service experience.

He retired as executive news editor in 2003. He also served as executive editor of the Malacanang-based Presidential News Desk from 1993 to 1996 and from 2005 to 2008.