Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has urged lawmakers to acknowledge the importance of wetlands to combat climate change by having a legislation for the protection of one of the Earth’s most valuable ecosystems.

"There has been no single Philippine legislation that advances wetland conservation and its wise use. While there are already existing laws that contain provisions directly or indirectly promoting wetland conservation, not one deal specifically on wetlands," Cimatu said following the culmination of two DENR-led events on the conservation of peatlands.

"If legislated, the national law on wetland will serve as the mother law for all wetlands in the country including peatlands. This will address the gray areas on our existing policies relevant to wetlands conservation," Cimatu said.

Currently, there are two existing bills for wetland protection and conservation: a substitute bill titled, “An Act Institutionalizing the National Wetlands Conservation Policy”; and House Bill 7206 or the proposed National Peatland and Peatland Resources Act.

The substitute bill to HB Numbers 3460 and HB 8925 filed by Representatives Mujiv Hataman, Amihilda Sangcopan, Luis Raymond "LRay" Villafuerte Jr., Elpidio Barzaga Jr., and Eric Go Yap, was recently approved at the committee level in the House of Representatives. HB 7206, on the other hand, was authored by Cavite 2nd District Rep. Strike Revilla and 25 other legislators.

The substitute bill, to be known as the National Wetlands Conservation Act, will apply to the protection and conservation of all types of wetlands in the Philippines, including inland wetlands such as rivers, lakes, marshes and swamps, coastal and marine, and human-made wetlands.

In the case of human-made wetlands, the proposed legislation will apply to those with high biodiversity value, critical wildlife habitat, and are part of the migratory routes of birds and fishes.

In November 2020, the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) partnered with PLDT-Smart in raising awareness on the Caimpugan Peatland in the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary.

The Philippines also hosted the 6th Meeting of the ASEAN Task Force on Peatlands (ATFP) last June.

A peatland is a type of wetland whose peat soils consist of carbon-rich dead and decaying plant matter. If kept wet, a peatland can store twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests combined.

DENR Undersecretary for Special Concerns and concurrent BMB Director Edilberto Leonardo said that the public’s role in raising awareness for the protection and conservation of wetlands including peatlands is crucial for the immediate legislation of the existing bills.

"Raising public awareness on both the importance and the threats related to the peatland and wetland ecosystems could be enhanced by gaining public support for the passage of the wetland and peatland bills and intensify the efforts for lobbying," Leonardo said.

The wetlands, he said, are one of the most productive habitats on earth which provide various direct and indirect benefits critical for human survival such as a source of drinking water, food, shelter, and livelihood activities.

It also plays an important role in disaster risk reduction such as flood control,” he added.

"If our legislators would see and know how strongly the public supports these bills, they will realize how important the passage of these bills are into national laws," Leonardo pointed out.

Leonardo said the public can show their support for the legislation of wetland-related bills by "using their social media platforms and joining public discussions so that they can attest on how these wetlands benefit us when maintained healthy and used wisely."

"They can even send petitions or letters of support to their district representatives and local government units to conserve these critical ecosystems," he said. ###