Secretary Roy A. Cimatu said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will continue to make the preservation of the country's protected areas a top priority this year by focusing on efforts to address the illegal occupation on these areas.

"We have taken for granted these protected areas. The perennial problem of illegal occupants is the reason why these areas are polluted and destroyed," Cimatu said during the annual Expanded Executive Committee Conference with the DENR officials on January 18.

The DENR is also taking into consideration the hiring of security personnel or "blue guards" to prevent individuals from illegally occupying the protected areas through its field offices with the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) overseeing its administration and management at a national level.

With the enactment of Republic Act (RA) 11038 or the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (ENIPAS) Act of 2018, 94 protected areas were added to the roster of legislated protected areas, bringing the total number to 107.

The public lands within these legislated protected areas are classified as national parks under the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

"We are studying the possibility of hiring blue guards in these areas to secure them from illegal occupants," Cimatu said, adding that the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape will be one of the priority sites.

The DENR is also looking into tapping the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to reinforce security in the protected areas.

Under the law, "occupying or dwelling in any public land within a protected area without clearance from the concerned Protected Area Management Board is strictly prohibited."

The violators of the NIPAS Act, as amended, will be fined P200,000 to P1 million or imprisoned for one year but not more than six years, or both.

Meanwhile, BMB OIC Director Natividad Bernardino said measures are continuously being implemented to effectively manage the country's protected areas.

"We are expediting the complete demarcation of all legislated protected areas to set their final boundaries, along with the creation of the Protected Area Management Office or PAMO," Bernardino said.

The demarcation of protected areas is pursuant to the provisions of the ENIPAS Act and guided by DENR Administrative Order No. 2015-10, as supplemented by BMB Technical Bulletin No. 2019-01.

Bernardino said the DENR-BMB also has an existing program on Protected Area Development and Management which covers the in-situ measures to conserve biodiversity within and adjacent to protected areas. ###