Lawmakers urge DENR, government to step up efforts to protect Sierra Madre

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 28 2022 03:57 AM

A view of the Sierra Madre mountain range from the peaks of Tanay. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file
A view of the Sierra Madre mountain range from the peaks of Tanay. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA—Lawmakers urged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to step up efforts to protect the Sierra Madre mountain range, as they reiterated its importance against strong typhoons like Karding which lashed parts of Luzon last Sunday.

“The Sierra Madre range considered the backbone of Luzon, served as a barrier against the typhoon. It mitigated the typhoon’s strength and its impact,” Gabriela Party List Rep. Arlene Brosas said during the House plenary debates on the proposed 2023 budget for the DENR.

But a study cited by Kabataan Party List Rep. Raoul Manuel showed that Sierra Madre’s forest cover has been on a downtrend from 2016 to 2019, reversing the gains from the National Greening Program from 2011 to 2015.

“Wala pong significant gain mula sa national greening program para protektahan ‘yung forest cover natin sa sierra madre. Ano kaya ang mga hakbang para hindi magtuloy-tuloy ang ganitong trend sa Sierra Madre?” Manuel asked.

DENR’s budget sponsor at the lower house, Palawan 2nd District Rep. Jose Alvarez, said the agency’s budget has been insufficient to hire an adequate number of forest guards. But he noted that the DENR is coordinating with local governments to help prevent illegal logging and quarrying activities in the mountains.

Brosas proposed to use a portion of the proposed P13.4-billion special purpose funds for climate change expenditures next year for Sierra Madre and other forest preservation efforts.

“Ang DENR naman… hindi nagpapabaya. Even with their meager budget, syempre andyan ang forest protection natin. Which we must admit, hindi ito sapat, hindi adequate ang forest protection, dahil isang forest guard, 4,000 hectares. Ano ang dala niya? Gulok… except for those forest guards na armado ng kapulisan. That’s why we have national greening program. Ang DENR din nagko-coordinate sa LGU on quarrying operations,” Alvarez explained.

“Sa Sierra Madre, nababasa natin, may intruders dyan na pumuputol ng puno, syempre this is brought about by the number 1 forest degradator in the country. Ang number one forest degradator is poverty,” he added.

“Taasan ang antas ng reforestation… Let’s find ways para matiyak na ang ating kalikasan hindi nasa-subject ng exploitation lalu na ng big entities,” Manuel urged the DENR.

“‘Around P13.4 billion worth of climate change expenditures is in the form of special purpose funds… (5:57PM) dapat ilagay ito sa line items at gamitin for programs for direct climate adaptation… Mas maigi nga po kung ilalagay ito Sierra Madre and other forests and our environment, at hindi mag-mukhang climate pork,” Brosas recommended.

She also slammed the DENR’s previous issuance of an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) to the Kaliwa Dam project, seen as a threat to Sierra Madre’s biodiversity.

“Ang DENR na mismo ang nagsabi sa kanilang Facebook post na “Help us protect Sierra Madre mountain range, by reporting to the nearest DENR office any illegal forest activities within the SMMR”. Tapos DENR din mismo ang nagbigay ng environmental compliance certificate sa Kaliwa Dam Project at iba pang mga aktibidad na maaaring magdulot ng negatibong epekto sa Sierra Madre… Hindi ba ito ay taliwas? Sa pagprotekta ng DENR sa ating environment, dapat hindi po nagbigay ng ECC ang DENR dito,” Brosas said.

She added that some residents who will be affected by the project were not consulted.

“Kung hindi nagkaroon ng proper consultation o mayroong mga oposisyon dito sa kaliwa dam, hindi ba dapat ay i-revoke o magkaroon ng muna ng dialogue ng Dumagats, ng mga Remontados, indigenous peoples dito?” Brosas asked.

"Tama ‘yun. ‘Yung environmental impact study ay dapat mauna. Then ‘yung FPIC, hindi lang doon sa indigenous people na present where the project is… Hindi lang ‘yung consultation sa Dumagat at ibang IP families doon, including those that will be impacted when the project is finished, sa paligid ng project na ‘yun,” Alvarez replied.

The House of Representatives terminated on Tuesday the plenary debates on the proposed 2023 budget for the DENR.