The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), along with the Department of Tourism (DOT) and Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), led the signing of a joint declaration for the implementation of the Year of the Protected Areas or YoPA campaign during its launch on May 23, 2022.

The ceremonial signing was led by DENR Acting Secretary Jim O. Sampulna, DOT Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, and DILG Secretary Eduardo Año, as they vowed to increase public awareness on the value of national parks in the country.

“Our protected areas (PAs) are essential to the survival of humanity because they provide vital ecosystem services such as provision of food, source of fresh water for domestic and agricultural production, raw materials for various products, a depository of genetic resources awaiting discovery for manufacturing of novel medicines, purifies the air we breathe, protects us from natural disasters, climate regulation, climate change mitigation, among other ecological, aesthetic and cultural benefits,” said Sampulna.

“This joint declaration will mandate the DENR, DOT, and DILG to lead the implementation of a massive YoPA information campaign to encourage people to visit the PAs and practice responsible tourism, which will be their contribution in protected area management and biodiversity conservation” he added.

The launching of the YoPA coincides with the celebration of the 90th anniversary since Republic Act (RA) 3915 – An Act providing for the establishment of national parks, declaring such parks as game refuges, and for other purposes – was enacted and formally established the national parks system in the Philippines.

At present, there are 246 PAs in the country, including the El Nido Managed Resource Protected Area in Palawan, and the six (6) YoPA pilot sites namely: Apo Reef Natural Park in Occidental Mindoro, Bongsanglay Natural Park in Masbate, Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park in Negros Oriental, Samar Island Natural Park in Northern, Eastern and (Western) Samar Provinces, Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary in Davao Oriental and Mts. Timpoong-Hibok-hibok Natural Monument in Camiguin.

With the reopening of tourism in the country, PAs encompassing the most pristine mountain ecosystems, lakes, rivers, and coastal marine ecosystems provide diverse options for a life time nature experience for the adventure and thrill seekers, and those seeking pure relaxation or the therapeutic embrace of nature. The DENR through the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) who leads the development and implementation of national plans and programs for sustainable management of PAs, has adopted together with the DOT, and other key Government Agencies the National Ecotourism Strategy to ensure that tourism in PAs are sustainable.

Aside from PAs under the purview of the RA 7586, as amended by RA 11038, the management and protection of other ecosystems such as inland wetlands, caves, and key biodiversity areas outside PAs are being pursued to broaden the coverage of protected ecosystems through other effective area-based conservation management approaches such as local conservation areas with local governments and indigenous cultural conservation areas with the Indigenous Peoples.

To promote the sustainable use of resources in PAs, the Biodiversity Friendly Enterprises program is being implemented to help communities around PAs harness the economic potential and sustainable resource-based livelihoods. In line with this, 178 people’s organizations are due to be recognized and empowered in the next four years to manage their own biodiversity-friendly enterprises, such as food processing, handicrafts, tourism, and aquaculture.

“Our protected areas are testament to the immense benefits that nature continues to provide for us. We must therefore increase our investments for the effective management of our protected areas,” BMB OIC Director Natividad Bernardino said.

As such, the BMB mobilizes support from other national government agencies, local governments, academe, business sector, and international donor agencies, to pull financial resources, expertise, and skills towards a collective community action for PAs. ###