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House panel recalls environment measure

A panel in the House of Representatives has recalled a measure    that seeks “to replace, expand and strengthen” the 23-year-old ‘National Integrated Protected Areas System’ (under Republic Act 7586) amid a controversy on the exclusion of Palawan’s protected areas.

This developed as Palawan Rep. Douglas Hagedorn, author of House Bill 6141, welcomed the decision of the House committee on natural resources, chaired by Surigao del Norte Rep. Francisco Matugas, as environmentalist leaders and groups have put up a united    front to oppose alleged vested interest and business groups out to exploit the country’s “protected areas.”

The committee will reopen the hearings on the measure in November    following Hagedorn’s  opposition to the  “anomalous” exclusion of Palawan’s protected areas from the  committee-approved version.

Hagedorn said he will request Matugas to hold an executive meeting of the committee as soon as possible “to restore Palawan’s protected sites, and, second, to include a clear statement in the bill that would ensure that the Strategic Environment Plan  of Palawan is modified or harmonized with the proposed new NIPAS law.”

He pointed out the immediate passage of HB 6141 in its original form has become “urgent” and “imperative,” citing the ‘PCSD 2015 State of Palawan Environment Report’ showing that coral reefs in the province in “excellent condition” has dropped to 2.1 percent compared to 3.7 percent 10 years ago.

Aside from creating “buffer zones” in protected areas and banning mining and all forms of “extractive activities” inside them, the new and expanded NIPAS imposes “stiffer penalties” on violators to include imprisonment, Hagedorn said.

Hagedorn said the NIPAS law reaffirms our country’s international commitment to environmental protection, conservation and development of natural resources.

Hagedorn said  that in requesting the exclusion, Gov. Jose Alvarez and Palawan Franz Alvarez asserted that Palawan does not need to be in the NIPAS, as the province already has its own Strategic Environmental Plan  under Republic Act 7611.

But environmentalist leaders and groups disagreed and declared that    “Palawan’s inclusion is beneficial to Palawan.”

The New NIPAS is a double-protection for the province’s ecologically critical sites. It will support the SEP, while preventing the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development from the danger of falling into a ‘regulatory capture’ by vested interests,” Hagedorn said.

Former Palawan Mayor Edward Hagedorn earlier said he was alarmed to learn from his brother Cong. Douglas Hagedorn that “vested interests” and “members of Congress  “managed to remove five of Palawan’s protected areas from the original list of the new NIPAS bill.  Palawan has 17 “key biodiversity areas” consisting of terrestrial and marine areas.

Environmentalists lament the effort of the provincial government to trim down Palawan’s protected areas, even as the Puerto Princesa City Council passed an ordinance in July, declaring two coral reef sites, the Tangdol Reef in Bgy. Bancao-Bancao and the Tagkuti Reef in Bgy. Simpokan as “marine sanctuaries,” where any human activity, except approved scientific research, is prohibited.

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