A House panel has approved at least six bills declaring 13 sites, found in eight provinces, as protected areas.
The House Committee on Natural Resources, chaired by Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., stressed that if these bills are enacted into law the sites will be closed to commercial and large-scale exploitation.
The 13 sites will be added to a long list of watersheds, hills, mountains, parks, forest lands, and natural landscapes declared protected under Republic Act No. 11038, or the Expanded National Integrated Areas System (ENIPAS) Act of 2018.
These are Mt. Arayat in Pampanga; nine watersheds in Mindoro Occidental and Mindoro Oriental, a group of small islands in the town of Carles in Iloilo, the Tugbo watershed in the city of Masbate and the town of Mobo in Masbate, the Hinakpan mystical hills in Guihulangan, Negros Oriental, and the Tirad Pass landscape in Gregorio del Pilar in Quirino and the towns of Sigay, Cervantes and Suyo in Ilocos Sur.
Barzaga pointed o0ut that most of these areas have been subjected to commercial use for decades and are now overexploited.
“We have to protect, regrow and preserve them for the benefit, enjoyment and appreciation of future generations of Filipinos. For instance, watersheds, hills and mountains are among our primary sources of water,” he said.
Barzaga added that the new protected sites cover a combined area of 332,456 hectares.
Deputy speaker and Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales Jr. welcomed the inclusion of Mt. Arayat saying the mountain “is currently facing environmental challenges like illegal logging.”
“If no action is taken, it is only a matter of time before Arayat degrades into an unrecoverable husk of landmass devoid of life. It could also become a natural hazard to people living within its periphery,” he said. A protected area management office headed by a protected area superintendent would be created to see to it that the sites are no longer subjected to destructive human practices.
Funding for the management and protection of these areas would be included in the annual budget of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.