Despite the obvious challenges caused by COVID-19, 2020 was a productive year for the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) after having successfully completed the designation of over 200 protected areas (PAs) and saved a dozen species from extinction this year.

The BMB is a staff bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) mandated to conserve and sustainably manage the country’s rich biological diversity.

DENR Secretary Roy A. Cimatu attributed BMB’s success to its unwavering commitment to making sure the country’s flora and fauna are well protected even during the COVID-19 lockdown when people mobility is limited and environmental crimes are rampant.

“The effects of the community quarantine did not dampen the spirits of our people at BMB. They made sure that the agency’s mandates are still fulfilled in the fullest extent possible,” Cimatu said.

Cimatu made the statement after the BMB reported that a total of 244 PAs covering more than 7 million hectares have been either legislated or proclaimed in 2020, pursuant to Republic Act 11038 or the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas (E-NIPAS) Act of 2018.

DENR Assistant Secretary and concurrent BMB Director Ricardo Calderon said the importance of designating PAs could not be overstated.

“Without the legislated and proclaimed PAs in the Cagayan and Marikina River Basin, the devastation of Typhoon Ulysses could have been worst for the wildlife and the communities dependent on these natural ecosystems,” he pointed out.

Calderon noted that each PA is guided by a science-based management plan, incorporating biodiversity assessment tools that identify appropriate management and conservation measures for flora and fauna and their habitats.

Calderon also reported “12 species are no longer on the edge of extinction” after the BMB intensified its wildlife protection and enforcement efforts.

He said the respective conservation status of these species were downlisted from endangered to vulnerable and vulnerable to other threatened species (OTS).

OTS, which is a classification under DENR Administrative Order 2019-09, refers to species or its varieties that is not critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable, but is under threat from adverse factors such as over collection throughout its range.

Calderon said one such species is the Asian Giant Softshell Turtle (Pelochelys cantorii), which was downlisted two levels from its previous status of endangered to OTS.

Another species that was downlisted to endangered to vulnerable are the Negros forest frog (Platymantis negrosensis), Mount Data forest frog (Platymantis subterrestris), Mindanao bleeding-heart (Gallicolumba crinigera), Luzon water redstart (Rhyacornis bicolor).

The Mindanao fanged frog (Limnonectes magnus), Basilan island caecilian (Ichthyophis glandulosus), Todaya caecilian (Ichthyophis mindanaoensis), Yellow-headed water monitor (Varanus cumingi), Marbled water monitor (Varanus marmoratus), Large-scaled water monitor (Varanus nuchalis), and Mount Isarog shrew-mouse (Archboldomys luzonensis) also downlisted from vulnerable to OTS.

Calderon said that even with this achievement, the BMB should not be complacent since those species under OTS might likely revert to its vulnerable or endangered category if left as it is.

“One of the vital components as to why this is successful is our aggressive wildlife enforcement. To date, we have conducted eight successful operations despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic,” Calderon said.

Those operations led to the confiscation of 53 wild fauna and 27.36 kilograms of agarwood or derivatives of Aquilaria species with an estimated cost of P5.6 million.

Moreover, seven new cases against wildlife criminals have been filed this year. As of September, the DENR secured 30 convictions out of 32 criminal cases it had previously filed against violators of RA 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of 2001. ###