The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is suspending all activities relating to land titling in areas proposed for declaration into protected areas.

The suspension is based on DENR Memorandum Order No. 2011-04, which provides the guidelines in regulating all activities, projects and land uses in all areas proposed for inclusion in the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS).

DENR Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje said the move is to “ease environmental pressure caused by human settlements on areas that naturally maintain ecological processes, provide life support systems, and preserve biodiversity.”

Under the order, the suspension shall cover survey and processing of all public land applications (PLAs) for titling purposes. Paje, however, clarified that the suspension shall only be effective on the actual date of submission of the draft proclamation by the DENR’s regional office, which has jurisdiction over the area, to the DENR Central Office in Quezon City.

Also suspended starting on the same date is the processing of applications for lease, license or permit of any project or activity within the identified area, as well as the acceptance of new applications “except for projects that are compatible with the objectives of the NIPAS.”

In cases, however, where the Office of the President decides to disapprove the proposed proclamation, the DENR shall lift the suspension on said activities.

In line with this, Paje ordered land management officers from the DENR’s field offices and the Land Management Bureau to ensure that survey and administrative titling activities comply with Memorandum Order 4. “Any responsible officer or personnel who fail to comply [with MO 4] shall be penalized accordingly,” the DENR chief warned.

Protected areas (PAs), as defined in Republic Act No. 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS), are portions of land and water with unique physical and biological significance, managed to enhance biodiversity and protected against destructive human exploitation. PAs are categorized as nature or resource reserves; natural parks, monuments, or biotic areas; wildlife sanctuaries; protected land or seascapes; or as established by law, conventions or international agreements.

Data from the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) of DENR indicate that there are currently 239 protected areas included in the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS), covering a total area of 5.4 million hectares. Of the total, 111 have already been officially as such, encompassing a total area of 3.5 million hectares.

Of these declared PAs, Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau Director Mundita Lim said 82 are terrestrial PAs, with a total area of 2.1 million hectares, of which 374,908.5 hectares are within alienable and disposable (A & D) lands.