A bill seeking to create an enforcement bureau within the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) now has a version in the Senate, raising hopes that the legislation could become law soon.

DENR Secretary Roy A. Cimatu became more optimistic about the chances of the measure being passed by Congress after Senator Nancy Binay filed on Oct. 12 a counterpart bill in the Senate creating the Environmental Protection and Enforcement Bureau (EPEB) under the DENR.

“We extend our gratitude to Senator Binay for advancing the EPEB bill in the Senate, thus increasing the chances of the draft law making it into legislation,” Cimatu said.

Cimatu also thanked anew Deputy Speaker and Antique Rep. Loren Legarda, who, on June 15, filed House Bill 6973 establishing the EPEB under the DENR. The measure is now pending with the House Committees on Government Reorganization and on Natural Resources.

Since last year, Cimatu has been advocating for the creation of an enforcement arm within the DENR following the successive killings of environment workers, mostly foresters, while performing their duties of protecting the environment.

The environment chief admitted the agency still lacked teeth in enforcing the country’s environmental laws, while many DENR frontline workers remained at risk.

He said that by having a permanent enforcement bureau, the DENR will be more effective in stopping environmental crimes, such as illegal logging and smuggling of wildlife species.

The former Armed Forces chief then appealed to the Senate and the House of Representatives to act “swiftly and decisively” on the two separate EPEB bills now pending in both chambers of Congress.

“Any delay comes at the risk of losing more precious lives of those within our ranks at the DENR and those of our partners in civil society at the frontlines fighting environmental criminals,” he pointed out.

Nilo Tamoria, executive director of the DENR’s Environmental Protection and Enforcement Task Force, said the passage of the proposed EPEB Act is “equally crucial” in the implementation of the country’s development plan agenda amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The establishment of the EPEB squarely addresses the requirements under the new normal setting as highlighted in the ‘We Recover as One’ report prepared by a technical working group of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases,” Tamoria explained.

According to the report, the COVID-19 pandemic “is a manifestation of the chronic effects of human activity on wildlife resources and habitats at an unprecedented rate, resurfacing in more damaging impacts on environmental and public health.”

This calls for a combination of strengthened, scaled up, and innovative actions and solutions to curb the elevated environmental, climate, and health risks, the report stated.

“In the new normal state, managing pollution and sustainable use of natural resources vis-a-vis addressing the threat of future pandemics under a changing climate become even more challenging,” said in the 76-page report. #