Greenpeace to DENR: Opening protected areas to businesses leads to exploitation

Keith Anthony S. Fabro
Greenpeace to DENR: Opening protected areas to businesses leads to exploitation
'We would like to remind the Philippine government that our environment is not for sale,' says Vince Cinches, Greenpeace Southeast Asia-Philippines political campaigner

PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines – Non-governmental organization Greenpeace Philippines is concerned over the decision of the environment department to lift the suspension of the issuance of special use agreement for protected areas (SAPA), claiming it will open the areas to exploitation.

“Greenpeace is very concerned over this development, and we fear that this move will do nothing but open the protected areas to exploitation,” Vince Cinches, Greenpeace Southeast Asia-Philippines political campaigner, said in a statement on Tuesday, May 8. 

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu announced Friday, May 4, that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources was again accepting SAPA applications after the DENR lifted the indefinite suspension on its issuance.

“Now that the suspension has been lifted, the DENR can guarantee that individuals, groups, and companies can once again apply for the special use of the PAs,” Cimatu said in a statement.

SAPA is a tenurial instrument issued to enable productive use of a protected area as defined under Republic Act 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992, while maintaining its status as a PA.

‘Regulatory tool’

The objectives of SAPA include putting a premium on ecosystem services provided by PAs and generating revenues that can be tapped for improved management and operations of the PAs,  reducing the required national subsidy.

“SAPA also serves as a regulatory tool for increased resource use beyond carrying capacity and increasing local economic opportunities, such as increased local employment from ecotourism establishments,” Cimatu said. 

In Palawan, SAPA is specifically sought by tourism establishments in El Nido, which forms part of the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area. 

“It’s all favorable to us. That would pave the way to have a legit tenurial instrument on our occupation and operation of our business establishments founded on a timberland classified parcel of land. At the same time, the DENR can collect revenue thru SAPA,” said Henri Fernandez, president of the Cottages, Resorts, and Restaurants Association of El Nido.

‘Sale of PAs to businesses’

With the lifting, the DENR resumes enforcement of Department Administrative Order (DAO) No. 2007-17 or the rules and regulations governing the issuance of the tenurial instrument for PAs.

Cimatu also signed DAO 2018-05, which provides for the standard computation of development fees imposed on SAPA recipients. SAPAs’ issuance was indefinitely suspended sometime in 2011 due to the absence of this. 

Cinches, however, said this is tantamount to selling PAs out to businesses. He compelled the DENR to “not allow greed to lord over our constitutional right to a balanced and healthful environment.”

“We would like to remind the Philippine government that our environment is not for sale. The environment does not belong to businesses that only seek to suck it dry with profit, but rather it belongs to the future generations, according to the Oposa vs Factoran Supreme Court decision on intergenerational responsibility to a healthy and balanced ecology,” he said. 

Cinches asserted that SAPA goes against the essence of RA 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 1992. 

“The revival of SAPA is in violation of the spirit or general objectives of the NIPAS, and will only enrich a few, worsen the current environmental problems and poverty situation in the Philippines,” he said.


The utilization of some of the country’s PAs, Cinches noted, do not have a General Management Planning Strategy (GMPS), as required by Rule 10 of DENR Administrative Order 2008-26.

“That is why even current protected areas are still being ravaged by destructive human activities such as mining, quarrying, fishing, farming, and general disregard for environmental protection laws. It was the reason why SAPA was suspended in the first place because this violates the NIPAS law,” he said. 

Cinches said it is important to note that human activities are still allowed in the identified buffer zones of PAs, as long as these would not impair the integrity of the strict protection zone.

“In some protected areas with GMPS, allowable human activities are not enumerated, because all activities are subjected to clear impact assessment,” he added.

As of 2013, there are 240 protected areas covering 5.45 million hectares under NIPAS, according to the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB).  

“These encompass 14.2% of the total area of the country, and include 4.07 million hectares of terrestrial (13.57% of total area of the country) and 1.38 million hectares of marine areas (0.63%  of total area of the country). About 26% of the country’s remaining forests are found in protected areas,” DENR BMB’s guidebook reads. –

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