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Environmental Crime Legal Framework in Philippines

The Philippines’ constitution contains provisions for the protection of the environment. Article II (Declaration of Principles and State Policy Principles) reads: “The State shall provide the policy environment for the full development of Filipino capability and the emergence of communication structures suitable to the needs and aspirations of the nation and the balanced flow of information into, out of, and across the country, in accordance with a policy that respects the freedom of speech and of the press”.

Section 16: “The State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature”

Featured Legislation

1929: Act No. 3572 (An act to Prohibit the Cutting of Tindalo, Akle or Molave Trees, under certain conditions, and to Penalize Violations Thereof) was approved, ensuring that any person, company, or corporation violating the provisions of this Act shall be punished by a fine of not more than fifty pesos or imprisonment for not more than fifteen days, or both, and to pay, besides, two times the amount of the tax on the timber cut.

1974: Presidential Decree No. 602 (establishing Oil Pollution Operations Centers in the Philippines Coast Guard Headquarters) was introduced. This Decree establishes the Oil Pollution Operations Centers in the Philippines Coast Guard Headquarters. The Center may call upon any department, bureau, office, agency or instrumentality of the government for such assistance as it may need in the form of personnel, facilities and other resources. The Philippine Coast Guard may negotiate directly with local companies which have oil containment and recovery facilities for the use of such equipment in combating oil pollution. The Center shall be the point of contact with similar national operations centers of ASEAN member countries and shall cause, when necessary, the immediate call for assistance from such countries to help contain oil pollution.

1975: The Forestry Reform Code of the Philippines (Presidential Decree No. 705) was adopted. This Act lays down the basic principles of forest management and conservation, makes provision for the administration of forestry (Chap. I), the survey and classification of lands for purposes of forestry (Chap. II), and the use of forest resources (Chap. III).

1998: The Republic Act No. 8485 (The Animal Welfare Act of 1998) was signed. The Act protects and promotes the welfare of all animals in the Philippines by supervising and regulating the establishment and operations of all facilities utilized for breeding, maintaining, keeping, treating or training of all animals either as objects of trade or as household pets. No person shall start an animal business without first securing from the Bureau of Animal Industry a certificate of registration. The certificate shall be issued upon proof that the facilities of such establishment for animals are adequate, clean and sanitary and will not be used for, nor cause pain and/or suffering to the animals. The certificate shall be valid for a period of one year. The Director of the Bureau of Animal Industry shall be charged with supervision of the animal industry.

2001: Republic Act No.  9147 (Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act) was passed. The legislation provides for the conservation and protection of wildlife resources and their habitats, appropriating funds for the initiation or support of scientific studies on the conservation of biological diversity.

2001: Republic Act No. 9154 (The Mt. Kanla-on Natural Park (MKNP) Act) was signed, considering the diversity of Mt. Kanla-on’s biological resources and its aesthetic, socio-cultural, economic and ecological importance to the Island of Negros. The protection and conservation of MKNP shall be pursued through sustainable and participatory development, advancing and protecting the interests of its legitimate inhabitants, and honoring customary laws in accordance with Republic Act No. 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 1992, Republic Act No. 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997, and international conventions to which the Philippines is a signatory.

2005: The Water Code of the Philippines was instituted. The Rules and Regulations (94 sections) regulate the appropriation and utilization of waters, including permit procedures for various water uses; the control, conservation and protection of waters, watersheds and related land resources; and the administration and enforcement of the Rules and Regulations. Included in the Regulations are the functions and powers of the Inter-Agency FloodPlain Management Committee and the Committee on Arbitration.

2011: The National Wetlands Action Plan for the Philippines (2011-2016) was created. The National Wetlands Action Plan for the Philippines (NWAPP) is an instrument with a national coverage, relating to the period 2011-2016: Which serves as an effective framework and integrating tool for the conservation and wise use of Philippine wetlands, in support of the overall sustainable development goals of the country. The main objectives of this Plan are: a) to harmonize and strictly enforce existing policies affecting the use of wetlands; b) to increase the awareness of key stakeholders on the importance of wetlands and effect a change in their behavior towards these ecosystems; c) to enhance the capacity of stakeholders, so that they are more capable of implementing wetland conservation measures; d) to promote collaboration among stakeholders for effective wetland management; and e) to establish comprehensive monitoring systems to ensure that wetlands are conserved, well managed, and wisely used.

2018: Department Circular No. 18 (Series of 2018 approving the Philippines List of Regulated Plant Pests) was ratified. The Annex of this Department Circular approves the List of Regulated Pests of Philippines. The List specifies all the plant diseases and pests classifying their scientific and common name, as well as their potential hosts. It classifies different diseases and pests caused by Mites, Insects, Bacteria, Phytoplasma, Fungi, Viruses, and Nematodes.

Featured Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

  • Environmental defenders in Palawan, an archipelagic province of the Philippines, remain vulnerable to various eco-crimes because of a lack of resources, powers, and support. At least 32 environmental law enforcers were attacked from 2001 to 2021, according to the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) and the DENR. Palawan, known for its rich biodiversity, is considered the country’s last ecological frontier. As such, environmentalists have called for stronger environmental law enforcement to protect hectares of mountain forests and nautical miles of seas, but to no avail. Rodrigo Duterte, the president, is calling for tougher measures and will be deferring to his environment secretary  – a former military chief. Chief among  Duterte’s calls to action include the creation of an Environmental Protection Enforcement Bureau (EPEB) under the DENR. According to sources, bills have been filed to create either this bureau or a National Environment Protection Agency in the mold of the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency. It is Duterte’s hope that said bureau will give environmental protection officers more teeth, protecting forest guards and other personnel. Interest groups have voiced concerns over the fact that the Philippines hosts some of the most biodiverse spots and some of the rarest species of animals and plants on Earth, yet its forest guards are not allowed to carry guns or arrest violators of environmental laws. Illegal loggers or poachers have been known to carry lethal firearms, and some poachers are now creating homemade shotguns called a paltik or “toka-toka”. Such weaponry outmatches forest guard companions, who are unarmed.  House Bill 6973, filed by environmentalist lawmaker Antique Representative Loren Legarda, empowers the EPEB to issue firearms to rangers and enforcement officers, overseeing an “Environment and Natural Resources Law Enforcement Academy" to train personnel, other law enforcers, and even local government staff in “advanced-level” environmental law enforcement. New legislation will also protect environmental law enforcers from legal harassment. Section 15 says the bureau must provide assistance to enforcers, complainants, and witnesses of environmental crimes when they are charged with Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation or SLAPPs – lawsuits filed by powerful actors, like corporations or syndicates, to silence or intimidate anyone who endangers their operations. A person who attacks or seriously intimidates an EPEB enforcer or their deputy could be made liable for direct assault under the Revised Penal Code.
  • New reforms to laws should address the waning number of forest rangers in the country: according to Nilo Tamoria, executive director of DENR’s Environmental Protection and Enforcement Task Force, the government employs only 2,500 forest rangers to guard the country’s 14 million hectares of protected areas. What is more, forest guards are paid the smallest government salary – salary grade 4 and personnel feel overworked and underpaid. The creation of a new bureau will allot its own budget for capacity building. House Bill 6973 will also identify sources of EPEB funding: the Integrated Protected Area Fund, environmental and user fees paid by tourists or companies, fees charged under the Electric Power Industry Reform Act, road users’ tax, and administrative fines and penalties imposed by the bureau itself. It is high time environmental laws get their own enforcement agency, given the complexity and technical aspects of the country’s myriad of green laws – like the Solid Waste Management Act. The DENR will be creating strategic partnerships with local police, too,  enhancing environmental crime units. At present, most police personnel hesitate to take the lead in such operations because of their lack of knowledge on highly technical and science-based environmental laws, but the DENR is prepared to subsume areas such as knowledge mobilization, exchange and training.

References and Further Reading

Contacts

Department of Environment and Natural Resources: ohea.denr@gmail.com