DENR urges users of protected areas to obtain approval from SPU
USERS of protected areas, including the controversial Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape (UMRBPL), are now required to apply for a Special Use Agreement (Sapa), the Acting Secretary of the Ministry of Environment has said and Natural Resources (DENR), Jim O. Sampulna.
The UMRBPL, which has been occupied by various users, has been the subject of often violent land disputes. The degradation of the upper basin of the Marikina River has been blamed by experts on flooding in Metro Manila, due to the reduced capacity of the heavily silted Marikina River.
Among the users of the UMRBPL is the Masungi Georeserve Foundation Inc. The group operates the award-winning Masungi Georeserve, a low-impact ecotourism site in Baras Rizal and Rublou Inc. and Blue Atom, which has business interests in the area . These groups were involved in a verbal brawl, with each accusing the other of wrongdoing.
But not all of these groups have Sapa.
A Sapa is an agreement between the DENR and a project promoter, which has a duration of 25 years and is renewable for another 25 years. This is a type of agreement applicable to special uses of protected areas.
Laws NIPAS, ENIPAS
UNDER the National Integrated System of Protected Areas (Nipas) Act 1992 or the Extended Nipas (Enipas) Act, special uses may be permitted within protected areas, except in areas of strict protection and strict nature reserves, subject to compliance with the environmental compliance certificate and payment. corresponding usage fees.
The Act also provides that the Secretary of the DENR has the authority to determine a set of system-wide fees and charges to ensure sustainable funding for protected areas.
“The law requires some type of agreement with the DENR on special uses of protected areas. We are bound by this law,” Sampulna said. “The conversion of [a] MOA [Memorandum of Agreement] in a Sapa is also an opportunity for the DENR to correct its trajectory and remedy the faults of the MOA. These defects include unconstitutional provisions and provisions that violate the Enipas Law and the Law on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. »
The rules and regulations implementing the Enipas Act provide that MOAs issued by the DENR in protected areas before the entry into force of the Nipas Act must be converted to Sapa once the requirements have been met.
According to Sampulna, this is the “best possible solution” that the DENR has found so far after a series of consultations and meetings with various stakeholders.
THE 1987 Constitution sets a 25-year limit, renewable for another 25 years, on the duration of agreements that the State enters into for the exploration, development and use of natural resources. The rules and regulations under the Nipas Law provide that ecotourism is one of the special uses of protected areas.
A Sapa aims to provide economic access and opportunities to indigenous peoples, titular migrant communities and other protected area stakeholders; optimize the development of special-use projects that comply with the principles of sustainable development and biodiversity conservation in collaboration with stakeholders; guide the development of protected area areas within their management objectives and provide a revenue stream for the sustainable management of protected areas. Under a memorandum of understanding signed in 2017, the DENR granted a perpetual land trust to the Masungi Georeserve Foundation.
The MOA lacked the free and prior informed consent of the indigenous peoples whose ancestral domain overlaps with the 2,700 hectares covered by the MOA. It also does not provide for the payment of user fees.
From MOA to Sapa
IN 2018, DENR issued DENR Administrative Order 2018-05, Addendum to DENR Administrative Order 2007-17 Rules and Regulations Governing Special Uses in Protected Areas, which states that “all existing MOAs on special uses in protected areas shall be converted to Sapa in accordance with DAO 2007-17 and this Order. »
Meanwhile, Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) Director Natividad Y. Bernardino said the DENR welcomes such passionate development partners as the Masungi Georeserve Foundation.
“I believe that the objectives of the DENR and the Foundation are the same. We just need to ensure that cooperation with development partners is in line with law and policy, such as providing sustainable financing for the protected area system through the payment of user fees,” said Bernardino.
She is committed to working with relevant stakeholders and government officials to determine a fair, equitable and lasting deal toward common goals.