Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu is hopeful the Environmental Protection and Enforcement Bureau (EPEB) will be created soon, as two committees in the House of Representatives held a joint meeting on proposed measures seeking to strengthen the enforcement of the country's environmental laws.

"What we are seeing is a sense of urgency and concerted effort at the House of Representatives and the Senate to reform the implementation of environmental laws of the land and establish a strong institution whose singular task is to be the government’s backbone in running after violators of our environmental laws like illegal loggers and wildlife poachers," Cimatu said.

A joint hearing of the House Committee on Government Reorganization and Committee on Natural Resources was held on March 3, 2021 for the deliberations of six proposed measures to strengthen environmental laws.

Four of the six House Bills (HBs) push for the creation of the EPEB, a permanent enforcement bureau under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

These include HB 6973 filed by Deputy Speaker and Antique Representative Loren Legarda ; HB 7873 by Deputy Speaker and South Cotabato, 2nd Dist. Rep. Ferdinand L. Hernandez; HB 7670 by Ilocos Norte, 2nd Dist. Rep. Angelo Marcos Barba; and HB 8028 by Camarines Sur, 2nd Dist. Rep. Luis Raymund “LRay” F. Villafuerte.

Two counterpart bills on the creation of the EPEB have already been filed at the Senate. These are Senate Bill (SB) 1878 filed by Senator Nancy Binay and SB 1579 filed by Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.

House deliberations were also held on HBs 3794 and 1648 introduced by Deputy Speaker and Cagayan De Oro 2nd District Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez and Magdalo Partylist Rep. Manuel D.G. Cabochan III, respectively.

The two HBs propose the transfer of DENR line bureaus, Environmental Management Bureau and Biodiversity Management Bureau, to form the National Environmental Protection Agency or NEPA.

The joint meeting at the House of Representatives was attended by Environmental Protection and Enforcement Task Force (EPETF) Executive Director Nilo B. Tamoria.

Director Tamoria noted that lodging regulatory and enforcement functions in one office have proven to be problematic as in the case of the NEPA measures.

"However, the EPEB bills seeks to consolidate and strengthen DENR’s mandate to enforce environmental laws through a single office whose core function is exclusively enforcement," he explained.
He cited the Mines and Geosciences Bureau as an example why an enforcement bureau within the DENR should be created.

"Yes, the MGB has enforcement powers but it has to be done in coordination with other law enforcement agencies as provided for under Republic Act (RA) 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995," Tamoria said.

During the meeting, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) also expressed their support for the EPEB creation.

"The enforcement of natural resources and environmental laws, rules and regulations is within the powers and functions of the DENR pursuant to the Administrative Code," DOJ Director Atty. Jane Garcia-Doble said.

"Based on our reading of Section 5 of HB 3794, we find that NEPA has no specific powers and function related to enforcement," Doble added.

NBI Environmental Crime Division Officer Atty. Habeas Corpuz pointed out that only the DENR is authorized to conduct arrest under Presidential Decree 705, also known as the Forestry Reform Code of the Philippines.

Atty. Corpuz noted that laws such as RA 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 and RA 7942 are silent as to whether the EMB and MGB can conduct arrest or seizure of equipment used in illegal mining operations.

"There seems to be a lack of enforcement functions of the DENR, so on that aspect we fully support the creation of EPEB to further strengthen the enforcement of our environmental laws," Corpuz said.

The joint hearing was presided by Committee on Government Reorganization Chairman Batangas, 5th Dist. Rep. Mario Vittorio “Mavey” A. Mariño and Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Cavite, 4th Dist. Rep. Elpidio F. Barzaga, Jr.

The two committee chairmen agreed to form a technical working group (TWG) that will study and consolidate the four measures, including whether to approve HBs 3794 and 1648 at the committee level first before it advances to the plenary for second reading. ###