MANILA – Oceana Philippines, the local arm of the world’s largest environmental group advocating for the protection of the seas, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Tuesday hailed the designation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) of 10 special prosecutors who will prosecute violations of environment laws and regulations in environmentally critical areas.
Gloria Estenzo Ramos, vice president for Oceana Phils., said the new special prosecutors will strengthen compliance of relevant laws in protected areas and hopefully deter commission of prohibited acts in our oceans and land.
She said her group obtained a certified copy of the order designating 10 special prosecutors for protected areas this week.
They are Gilmarie Fe Pacamarra, Liezel Aquiatan, Tofel Austria, Alejandro Daguiso, Katheryn May Penaco-Rojas, Ferdinand Fernandez, Karla Cabel, Charlie Guhit, Monica Liwag, and Ma. Richell Oliva.
The newly designated special prosecutors are expected to provide assistance to park rangers and other law enforcers in protected areas, especially in the filing of cases and gathering of evidence.
They are imbued with the knowledge in relevant environment laws and principles, and likely to devote focused attention in the litigation of environmental cases in protected areas.
“With the appointments, Oceana is looking forward to forging greater partnerships with the DOJ, our environment and fisheries agencies, and other stakeholders in promoting awareness and understanding of the urgent need to protect our vulnerable ecosystems and threatened habitats of various species of flora and fauna, which will help in the handling of environmental cases,” Ramos said.
Meanwhile, Isabelo Montejo, DENR regional director in Central Visayas, said the availability of special prosecutors would speed up the litigation of environment cases.
“This will truly advance the enforcement of the laws and regulations for protected areas. We have many issues in the environment which need to be focused on. The special prosecutors for protected areas will be more familiar with the laws governing environment protection, which will greatly help in the resolution of cases,” Montejo said.
The appointment of the special prosecutors came about after Oceana Philippines sent a letter to DOJ Secretary Leila De Lima on July requesting for the creation of a special prosecutors’ office for protected areas.
Ramos said that Section 19 of Republic Act 7586 known as the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act (NIPAS) Act of 1992 provides that “the Department of Justice shall designate special prosecutors to prosecute violations of laws, rules and regulations in protected areas.”
The NIPAS Act defines protected areas as “remarkable areas and biologically important public lands that are habitats of rare and endangered species of plants and animals, biogeographic zones and related ecosystems, whether terrestrial, wetland or marine.”
“Our protected areas deserve special attention. Right now, there is still that huge need for our stakeholders to be fully conscious of the shared responsibility to protect these ecologically significant places, including seascapes,” Ramos said.
As of 2014, the DENR has listed 240 protected areas in the Philippines.
There are also several protected areas designated as World Heritage Sites (Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park and Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park), Ramsar Sites (Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary, Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, Naujan Lake National Park, Transboundary Protected Areas (Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary) and the ASEAN Heritage Parks (Mt. Apo Natural Park, Mts. Iglit-Baco National Park, and Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park).
In the meantime, Oceana has proposed the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape (TSPS), the largest marine protected area in the Philippines, as a possible training site for the newly designated special prosecutors.
Tañon Strait covers 42 towns and cities in the provinces of Cebu, Negros Oriental, and Negros Occidental.
It is a critical marine habitat for 14 species of dolphins and whales, 70 species of fish, 20 species of crustaceans, 26 species of mangroves, and 18,830 hectares of coral reef, with fishing as a primary source of livelihood among coastal residents.
Concordio Remoroza, Protected Area Superintendent for TSPS, described the designation of special prosecutors as a “dream come true,” especially in strengthening law enforcement in Tañon Strait.
“This will ease the process of filing cases related to any destructive activities in Tañon Strait. Our enforcers will be more encouraged and determined to go after violators within the protected area,” Remoroza said.