The Philippines is a diverse country with rich ecosystems that serve as habitats of endemic species of flora and fauna. These bountiful natural resources, however, are facing environmental changes brought about by exploitation such as poaching, deforestation, land degradation through conversion for other usage, climate change and pollution.

Environmental protection is gargantuan in scale and expanse. The Asian Development Bank estimated the cost of illegal wildlife trade in the country at P50 billion a year. In Region 6, the DENR was able to apprehend and confiscate illegally transported forest products that amount to millions. In other regions, cases are more difficult.

Recognizing this threat, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is pushing for the creation of an Environmental Protection and Enforcement Bureau (EPEB) that shall pursue the stringent implementation of environmental laws, policies, rules and regulations with the assistance of personnel from the military, police, the National Bureau of Investigation and government prosecutors.

Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu saw the need to form EPEB as the DENR lacks personnel similar to police, and intelligence officers to handle enforcement.

“We have laws but we have a hard time implementing them,” said Cimatu. To provide financial support for the proposed bureau, the environment chief proposed an increase in the DENR fund to include P1.2 billion for the EPEB.

“With our own enforcement bureau, the DENR could effectively enforce environmental laws and protect its workers who have been vicious targets of illegal loggers and other environmental criminals,” he added.

On February 19-20, 2020, Iloilo City will host the Strategic Planning Workshop on Environmental Protection and Enforcement.

Undersecretary for Enforcement and Muslim Affairs, Jim O. Sampulna will lead the conduct of the workshop which aims to review, assess and set policy directions in the implementation and presentation of the proposed bill creating the EPEB.

Participants in the event include DENR undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, bureau directors, regional executive directors, assistant regional directors for technical services, PENRO’s, Chief Enforcement Division and the chair of the National Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee Sub-Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (NALECC-SCENR).

The proposed bureau shall arrest and prosecute environmental criminals, apprehend and confiscate unlicensed timber and forest products, and destroy unauthorized and illegal structures. Paraphernalia and conveyances used in the illegal activities may also be confiscated.

The bureau supports President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s zero to 10-point socioeconomic agenda, particularly peace and order.

Further, the EPEB also aims to curb illegal mining, illegal logging, smuggling and trading of wildlife species and other environmental crimes that risk our biodiversity and destroy our protected areas and the habitats of threatened species.

Western Visayas has 235 Lawin Patrollers composed of forest rangers, forest protection officers, forest technicians and park foreman patrolling the timberland including the 14 protected areas (PAs). Five of these Pas are legislated and eight are under the initial component of Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas (E-NIPAS). The teams have patrolled a total of 8,745.65 kilometers for CY 2019.

“The presence of the Lawin Patrollers in the forest areas serve as deterrent to illegal activities. It heightened the protection of our rich natural resources in the region,” said DENR 6 Regional Executive Director Francisco E. Milla, Jr.###