Environmental Law

Bill on Sustainable Management of Forest Lands and Forest Resources passed

Date: 25 February 2019; Type: Legal News; Source: House of Representatives

The House of Representatives approved on second reading a bill seeking to set a policy direction in the formulation of programs for the protection and sustainable management of forest lands to enhance forest ecosystems services.

Principally authored by Rep. Lawrence Lemuel Fortun (1st District, Agusan del Norte), House Bill 9088 or the proposed “Sustainable Forest Management Act”, aims to optimize the utilization of forest resources to support sustainable development in the country by providing equitable access and benefit sharing to stakeholders.

Its goals are : a) deregulate the management of forest lands and forest resources; b) provide sustainable institutional livelihood and enterprises especially among those depending and temporarily residing in forest lands; c) strengthen institutional mechanism to respond to forest management concerns namely, development of the forest industry, law enforcement, and management of watershed; d) create the Sustainable Forest Development Fund as a support mechanism for funding requirements of forest management units; e) reorient the role of the Forest Management Bureau to be more responsive and pro-active consistent with the objectives of the Act; and f) ensure that required forest cover is achieved to maintain the provision of ecological services.

The bill covers all forest lands and all forest resources in lands over which the Philippines has sovereignty and jurisdiction.

It provides that forestlands and forest resources shall be under the supervision and control by the State.

The bill mandates the Forest Management Bureau (FMB) as the primary government agency responsible for the administration, development, management and utilization of forest lands as defined under the Act.

The bill categorizes forest lands in the Philippines into ancestral forest lands, private forest lands and public forest lands.

For purposes of management and planning, all forest lands shall be managed for protection or production purposes only.

The bill identifies the Forest Management Units (FMUs) as the primary planning unit under the Act as well as identifies the qualified managers of FMUs.

The proposal states that the State, represented by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), may undertake the exploration, development, and utilization of forest lands and forest resources found therein by entering into a Forest Management Agreement with qualified persons, whether natural or juridical.

The bill likewise calls for the establishment of the Sustainable Forest Development Fund to provide concessional financing particularly for forest development projects proposed by qualified managers of FMUs.

It further mandates the reconstitution of the Forest Management Bureau as a line bureau under the DENR.

The measure provides penalties for offenses such as : 1) harvesting, gathering, collection, or possession of forest resources from protection forest land; 2) illegal harvesting, gathering, collection, or possession of forest resources as an act of economic sabotage; 3) grazing livestock in forest lands without authority; 4) unlawful occupation of forest lands; destruction of forest lands; and 5) unlawful operations of sawmills, wood processing plants, and forest-based industries, among others.

Fortun said the Philippine forests are among the most diverse in the world and considered as one of the world’s richest source of plant and animal species but it is also considered as one of the most threatened.

“Our forest covers have been estimated to have been reduced to 18.3 percent in 1999 and is estimated to be shrinking by two percent every year,” Fortun said.

Fortun further said that the major causes of loss of the country’s forests are commercial and illegal logging, forest conversion, population growth, migration and fuel wood harvesting.

“It is crucial that the country adopts a systematic, coherent and responsive forest management system to restore the integrity of our forest ecosystem,” he added.

Other authors of the bill are Deputy Speaker Pia Cayetano, Majority Leader Fredenil Castro, Reps. Teddy Brawner Baguilat, Jr., Arthur Defensor, Jr., Noel Villanueva, Estrellita Suansing, Divina Grace Yu and Rodrigo Abellanosa.

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