by Joe Mancera
Rep. Lawrence “Law” H. Fortun, of the 1st District of Agusan del Norte, has authored House Bill 4052 which is geared to become a law to be known as the National Mangrove Forest Protection and Preservation Act. The House Committee on Natural Resources has just unanimously approved the bill, which will later be reconciled with two of the Senate’s versions, SBN 639 and SBN 148.
With the approval of FB 4052 for the protection and preservation of the country’s mangrove forests, Rep. Fortun shall then ask his colleagues in the Rules and Appropriations Committee to look after the mangrove bill.
“Mahalaga ang mga bakawan dahil nagsisilbi itong tahanan ng mga di mabilang na species ng mga hayop at halaman. Nagbibigay rin ito ng kabuhayan ng mga Pinoy dahil napagkukunan ito ng pagkain at raw materials.” This is how Rep. Furton greatly values our mangrove forests, even if his bill was late in coming. But it’s not too late. There is already an existing law which most developers have chosen to disregard, defy or violate: the NIPAS Law which mandates that productive coastal areas should left in their natural state to the greatest extent possible. There should not be any obstruction between the mangroves and the sea; mangroves need the direct contact with the sea, its waves and currents.
Maasin City’s coastal areas and their healthy, highly productive marine ecosystem and bio-diversity had been automatically made part of the protective provisions of the NIPAS Law. But our political leaders chose to defy and consequently violate the law. The NIPAS Law has been augmented by two Executive Orders: EO 533 and EO 240. EO 533 is about the Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) in which LGUSs are mandated to be frontliners in the management, protection and conservation of the marine ecosystem, the coastal resources and bio-diversity.
LGUs are also mandated by EO 240 to organize in every barangay in Maasin the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council (FARMC) to oversee the management, protection and conservation of marine coastal resources. So far, no active FARMC has been seen or heard.
Since the passing of its Marine Protective Areas (MPA) ordinance, Maasin City has miserably failed in its responsibility to manage, protect and conserve Maasin’s healthy, highly productive marine ecosystem. The city has now allowed the destruction of the coastal area in barangay Lib-og which is part of the city’s MPA. The city is violating its own MPA ordinance. According to its MPA, the only activity allowed in the MPA-covered barangays is the planting of mangroves, as the NIPAS Law was cited in the MPA ordinance.
Another preposterous, ironic and disdainful fact about FARMC in Maasin is that a group of fishermen is being led by a president who does not even know how to catch fish. And so the supposed benefits for subsistence fishermen were given only to those who are of the same political color as of those who are in power.
As Rep. Fortun would say, there are countless species of marine life which are accommodated, fed, and protected by the mangroves. Among these are the giant mud crabs (alimango), lambay, shrimps, takla (of the crayfish family), pelagic and coral fishes in their early stages of growth, countless varieties of shellfish (kinhason), etc. Takla costs from P250 to P300 a kilo, depending on the availability of stock and demand.
Mangroves serve as effective disaster risk reduction tool that protect lands from erosion and inundation. As noted in a 2017 World Bank study, the mangrove lost between 1950 and 2010 have resulted in flooding to more than 267,000 people every year based on the Philippines’ current population. The Philippines was home to an estimated mangrove forest cover of more than half-a-million hectares. But as early as year 2000, forest cover diminished by 250,000 hectares, an extremely alarming decline. There shall be clear and definite policies and mechanisms in the protection and restoration of our country’s (and Maasin City’s mangroves) with the enactment into law of the National Mangrove Forest Protection and Preservation Act.
Now in Maasin, they are going to destroy our mangroves with their causeway and massive 80-100 hectares of reclamation. Without any ECC (only Certificate of Non-Coverage which isn’t a permit!), other pre-requisite documents, no public consultation, etc. this destructive reclamation shall certainly be declared illegal, in light of the NIPAS Law and EO 533 and 240. The previous 4-hectare Combado reclamation, even if illegal, was issued an ECC which was still questionable. How much more for this 80-100 hectare environmental disaster? Calling DENR-EMB Region 8. Remember Yolanda. (Photo source: mangroveecology.com)