MANILA - Amid the pandemic, the Philippines' environment department continues to push for a dedicated arm to enforce laws against environmental crimes such as littering and illegal logging.
Law enforcers such as police and soldiers currently aid the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in safeguarding the country’s plant and wildlife.
This was seen at a coastal clean-up at the Las Piñas-Parañaque Wetland Park protected area on Wednesday, where over 500 personnel of the Metro Manila police and Southern Police District (SPD), Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), Coast Guard, Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), and Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) joined.
The activity, which was originally scheduled for planting mangroves in the area, coincided with World Wildlife Day.
The 2-hour clean-up was able to haul in 4,769 kilos or nearly 5 tons of trash collected from the beach.
While these efforts help, they can only go so far, said DENR Undersecretary for Special Concerns Edilberto Leonardo, who led the clean-up.
Pending in Congress is the department’s pet bill to create the Environmental Protection and Enforcement Bureau or EPEB—the agency’s own “environmental police” that would focus on environmental crimes.
Since 2020, the DENR has urged Pres. Rodrigo Duterte to certify the bill as urgent.
“Mas marami ang environmental crimes na dapat nating i-address—kagaya nitong coastal areas natin, andaming environmental crimes na nangyayari dito,” Leonardo told reporters.
(There are many more environmental crimes that need to be addressed—such as in these coastal areas where many of these are happening.)
Leonardo, a former policeman, admitted local law enforcers could not stem the increase in informal settlers at waterways, which contribute to pollution.
“Si DENR sa totoo lang, nagkulang din dahil wala rin siyang mga enforcers.”
(The DENR actually also failed on its part because it has no enforcers.)
Southern Police District director Police Brig. Gen. Eliseo Cruz agreed, adding that while police support their environmental mandate, they also have their hands full.
“Sa dami ng batas na ipinapatupad ng PNP, nagiging minsan selective tayo,” Cruz said.
(With the many laws the police have to enforce, there are times that we become selective in the ones we do.)
Should the EPEB law be passed, the DENR would still tap the police and Armed Forces to help with the transition.
Having a dedicated environmental force could also make the fight for the environment proactive, Leonardo said.
Instead of merely stopping illegal loggers from transporting already cut wood, the enforcers can prevent the trees from being cut down in the first place.
“I-identify natin ‘yong protected areas still intact, po-protektahan natin, lalagyan na ng gwardya. So iyon ang way forward natin,” he said.
(We will identify the protected areas that are still intact and protect them. We will deploy guards. That is our way forward.)
The DENR is set to conduct site inspections in these areas to determine what suitable interventions they and their partner agencies can do for now.
Coastal and waterway clean-up activities will also continue in other places in the country especially with the upcoming World Coastal Clean-up day.
Cruz and Leonardo added they hoped the public would also help in reporting and stopping environmental crimes they encounter in their community.