The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) encouraged holders of memoranda of agreement (MOA) for projects that are considered as special uses in all protected areas, including the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape (UMRBPL), to apply for a Special Use Agreement in Protected Areas or SAPA.

A SAPA is an agreement between the DENR and a project proponent, which has a term of 25 years, and is renewable for another 25 years.

Under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 1992 or the Expanded NIPAS (ENIPAS) Act, special uses may be allowed within protected areas except in strict protection zones and strict nature reserves, subject to compliance with the environmental compliance certificate, and payment of corresponding user fee.

The law also states that the DENR secretary has the authority to determine a system-wide set of fees and charges to ensure sustainable financing of protected areas.

“The law requires a certain type of agreement with the DENR on special uses of protected areas. We are bound by this law. The conversion of a MOA into a SAPA is also an opportunity for the DENR to correct its course and to cure defects in the MOA. Such defects include unconstitutional provisions, and provisions that violate the ENIPAS Act, and the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act,” DENR Acting Secretary Jim O. Sampulna said.

The implementing rules and regulations of the ENIPAS Act provide that MOAs issued by the DENR within protected areas prior to the effectivity of the NIPAS Act shall be converted into SAPA upon satisfactory compliance with requirements.

According to Sampulna, this is the “best possible solution” that the DENR has come up with so far after a series of consultations and meetings with various stakeholders.

The 1987 Constitution sets a limit of 25 years, renewable for another 25 years, for the term of agreements that the State enters into for the exploration, development, and use of natural resources.

A SAPA is the type of agreement applicable to special uses of protected areas.

The rules and regulations implementing the NIPAS Act provide that ecotourism is one of the special uses of protected areas.

SAPAs aim to provide access and economic opportunities to indigenous peoples, tenured migrant communities, and other protected area stakeholders; optimize the development of special-use projects consistent with the principles of sustainable development and biodiversity conservation in cooperation with stakeholders; guide the development of the zones of protected areas under their management objectives; and provide a revenue stream for the sustainable management of protected areas.

Under a MOA signed in 2017, the DENR has given a perpetual land trust to the Masungi Georeserve Foundation.

The MOA did not have the free, prior informed consent of the indigenous people whose ancestral domain overlaps with the 2,700 hectares covered by the MOA. It also does not provide for the payment of user fees.

In 2018, the DENR issued DENR Administrative Order 2018-05, Addendum to DENR Administrative Order No. 2007-17 on the Rules and Regulations Governing Special Uses within Protected Areas, which states that “all existing Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Special Uses within Protected Area shall be converted into SAPA in accordance with DAO 2007-17 and this Order.”

Meanwhile, Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) Director Natividad Y. Bernardino said the DENR welcomes development partners that are as passionate as the Masungi Georeserve Foundation.

“I believe that the aims of the DENR and the Foundation are the same. We just have to ensure that cooperation with development partners conform with the law and policy, such as provision of sustainable financing of the protected areas system through payment of user fees,” Bernardino said.

She vowed to work with the concerned stakeholders and government officials in determining a fair, equitable, and sustainable agreement towards common goals. ###