5 ways to improve how we protect our parks

Sustainable ecotourism projects and involving indigenous peoples can help conserve the most beautiful places in the country

PARADISES ON EARTH. The world-famous Tubbataha Reefs is one of 240 protected areas in the Philippines. Photo by Gregg Yan

MANILA, Philippines – With a “poor” to “fair” rating in the management of natural parks in the Philippines, how can the government improve the protection of the country’s most beautiful places?

At the launch of a landmark report on protected areas management in the Philippines, environment officials, scientists and community leaders came up with ways to improve how we take care of our natural wonders.

1. Create a protected areas database 

A database with baseline information and a record of biodiversity in each protected area (PA) must be compiled. This can serve as the basis for a database and accounting of biodiversity on the regional and national levels. With this kind of data available, it will be easier to get support and funding for protected areas because potential donors or champions will know the importance of the PAs they are promoting.

This will also allow the government to report achievements or failures in protecting natural parks and can be a solid foundation for improving their management.

2. Strengthen local government accountability

“LGUs provide not only the legitimacy but also the key dimension of sustainability and continuation,” said report co-author Dr Gilbert Braganza. 

The best-managed PAs in the study were those where the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had strong collaboration with the LGU holding political jurisdiction over the protected area.

Nothing happens without the mayor’s knowledge. Getting LGU officials involved can smoothen out conflicts and harmonize PA policies with those of the LGU (like inclusion in the LGU’s land use plan). Maintenance of PA zones will also be strengthened by LGU ordinances. 

To reinforce accountability, the DENR can use the “hiya” (embarrassment) factor so powerful in motivating Filipinos. LGUs can be evaluated with poorly-performing ones exposed. 

Another way to do this is to connect the PA with the needs of the LGU.   

“If the PA is a watershed, it has to be actively connected to the community’s irrigation system or a major fishing ground,” said report co-author Dr Ernesto Guiang.

3. More collaboration with other groups 

Partnership leads to effective PA management. When Protected Area Management Boards (PAMBs) collaborate with the academe, training and research organizations, there is easier allocation of resources and mobilization of volunteers and other stakeholders to actively participate in taking care of the natural park.

4. Smoothen out conflicting and overlapping policies

The Environment Secretary must mediate between all the groups with their own policies involving PA management: National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, Tourism, Agriculture, Interior and Local Government departments, and Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board. 

The mediation should produce Implementing Rules and Regulations which undo the knots and straighten out overlaps.

5. Boost funding

Aside from increasing the budget for PAs, the PAMBs and LGUs themselves can find ways to make the PAs revenue-generating. This includes sustainable eco-tourism that can demand environmental fees or guiding fees. Former Environment Secretary Victor Ramos also recommended using the fresh water generated by many PAs as a source of funding. 

Households which use water from the park can be made to pay a small monthly levy that will go to maintaining the PA. 

Making a protected area revenue-generating also encourages the LGU and other stakeholders to invest and get more involved in maintaining it. 

Steps being taken

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje gave assurances that he and his department would act on the report’s recommendations. He said some steps had already been taken to address some of the suggestions.

For instance, the 2014 budget for the Biodiversity Management Bureau (formerly Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau) was tripled to ensure more funding for the protected areas.

And in September 2013, a law was passed that makes funds more accessible to the people who manage protected areas.  

Republic Act 10629 allows the PAMB of each protected area to retain 75% of the revenue it generates from tourist entrance fees, leases from tourist establishments and payment from industries that benefit from the park. Before this law, all the revenue went directly to the national treasury and trickled back slowly to the protected area. 

BMB Director Theresa Mundita Lim told media that they are now formulating the Implementing Rules and Regulations for the law to be enacted as soon as possible.

Within the month, her agency is also meeting with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to think of ways to involve IPs in protected area management. Many tribal ancestral domains are located within protected areas. – Rappler.com