Cebu News

Including Tañon strait: Fiscal team formed for protected areas

Kristine B. Quintas/JMO - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines - The Department of Justice has appointed 10 special prosecutors for the country’s protected areas including the 521,018-hectare Tañon Strait.

 They are lawyers 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 team was created upon the request of Oceana Philippines in a letter to DOJ for the creation of a special prosecutors office for protected areas.

 The request was in accordance to Section 19 of Republic Act 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act (NIPAS) Act of 1992, which 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.”

According to Oceana Philippines, the newly designated special prosecutors will handle cases involving violations of environment laws and regulations in environmentally critical areas.

They are also 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,” Oceana Philippines said in a statement.

 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.

 Tañon Strait encompasses 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.

 The press statement further quoted Department of Environment and Natural Resources-7 Regional Director Isabelo Montejo saying that 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.

 Lawyer Gloria Ramos, Vice President for Oceana Philippines, said the new special prosecutors will strengthen compliance of relevant laws in protected areas.

 But she underscored the shared responsibility to protect marine seascapes.

 “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,” she said.

 With the enforcement of new prosecutors, Ramos hopes that they will be instrumental in deterring commission of prohibited acts either in oceans or land.

 She said they are also willing to forge synergies with the DOJ, environment and fisheries agencies, and other stakeholders in promoting awareness and understanding of the urgent need to protect “vulnerable ecosystems and threatened habitats of various species of flora and fauna.”

 Meanwhile, Oceana Philippines 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

 As of 2014, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (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, and Tubbataha Reefs Natural 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). — (FREEMAN)

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