A proposed legislation to establish a national “greenbelt” program to shield fishers and coastal communities from storm surges and worsening impacts of climate change is gaining ground, as it is supported by a host of local government units nationwide.
Called “An Act Establishing the National Coastal Greenbelt Program, Providing Funds Therefor, and for Other Purposes,” the proposed Senate Bill (SB) Nos. 1237, 1117, 591 and 113 are sponsored by Senators Cynthia Villar, Loren Legarda, Risa Hontiveros and Nancy Binay, while Representatives Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro City) and Jose Manuel Alba (Bukidnon) are spearheading the House Bill (HB) Nos. 3303 and 3136 at the House of Representatives (HoR).
Senator Hontiveros said SB 591, which she previously filed in November 2020 as SB 1917, aims to come up with a strategic program to rationalize the development of mangroves and beach forests for coastal protection, and anchored on a comprehensive policy framework that addresses the fragmented approach in the past.
The proposed legislations shall provide appropriate agencies and government instrumentalities the mandates, funding, and general guiding principles for implementing a science-based and cost-effective program.
At the HoR, the Committee on Climate Change chaired by Cong. Edgar Chatto (Bohol, 1st District), has concluded its marathon Technical Working Group meetings to tackle the proposed coastal greenbelt bills. These meetings were well-attended by national government agencies concerned, academe and non-government organizations with emphasis given on its urgency, timelines and importance of protecting the country’s threatened coastal greenbelts.
Parallel initiatives supporting the bills and declaring a network of coastal greenbelt zones are led by the Regional Development Council (RDC XI, Davao), and the Provincial Government of Negros Occidental.
In its Resolution No. 132, issued on September 27, 2022, the RDC XI said “the passage of a national law reinforces Davao Region’s commitment on maintaining ecological integrity, clean and healthy environment.” It also supports the development of a regional coastal greenbelt management action plan. The policy was approved by acting RDC XI chairperson and concurrent NEDA Region 11 Director Maria Lourdes Lim.
In addition, Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson issued on October 19, 2022, Provincial Executive Order (EO) 22-50, declaring a network of coastal greenbelt zones and providing funds for said initiative. He also signed EO 22-51, declaring a network of provincial conservation areas and coastal greenbelt zones, the first of its kind in the country.
“With the state of our environment, including the decline of the state of our wetlands, we are in a race against time to save and conserve our natural habitat,” said Lacson. He issued the two policies in commemoration of the 7th year of the Negros Occidental Coastal Wetlands Conservation Area and NOCWAMA Day.
For her part, Oceana Philippines Vice President Gloria Estenzo-Ramos said “we vigorously support the development and implementation of a national program for coastal greenbelt zones, which should be interrelated with disaster risk reduction mechanisms that would enhance the people’s adaptive capacity to be able to rise up amid the challenges posed by the climate crisis.”
“We live in an archipelago with one of the longest coastlines that are also the pathways of typhoons and storm surges, yet the government favored the so-called development projects in exchange for coastal defense provided by mangroves and beach forest areas which had been decimated as a result of reclamation and dump-and-fill projects,” Ramos added.
According to Ramos, thriving mangrove forest areas serve not only as refuge and habitat for fishes, aquatic animals and plants, but also as natural barriers to protect coastal towns and rural folk from storm surges, erosion and floods that inflict huge damage to property and lives caused by powerful typhoons.
Ironically, mangroves are being cleared at an alarming rate due to man-made causes, foremost of which are land development, pollution, and deforestation for fuel.
Hence, Ramos said Oceana has been working with advocates and government leaders since March 2022 to enact a law to protect mangrove forests and mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change.
“Reclamation projects are inconsistent with the State guarantee for all Filipinos’ right to a healthful and balanced ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature,” she added.
In all, Senator Hontiveros said “poor coastal communities’ natural exposure to storm surges and lack of resources for preparation and recovery make them most vulnerable. Thus, it is imperative to think of innovative, sustainable and cost-efficient ways to enable fishers and coastal residents to protect themselves, their properties and communities from the devastating Impacts of natural disasters.”
She added that the establishment of greenbelts of mangroves and beach forests is a proven green engineering intervention, and these play an essential role in mitigating climate change and its impacts.
More importantly, the cost of establishing coastal greenbelts would only be a fraction of the damages that could be brought by the yearly battering of typhoons and storm surges, she said.
Data from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) showed that in 2015 the Philippines had seven million hectares of forest cover, of which 4.3% or 303,373 hectares were mangroves, drastically down from an estimated 450,000 hectares in 1918.