Seven House Bills were reviewed starting December 2017 (ahead of Project approval) by the Technical Working Group (composed of SFFI, DENR, FMB, HFI, TKI, NTFP, UPLB-FDC, among others) assigned by the House of Representatives - Committee on Natural Resources (HOR-CNR) to be led by the SFFI. The said assignment was done verbally by the HOR-CNR Committee Chairperson Representative Abellanosa during its November 2017 Committee Hearing when the SFFI was invited and represented by its National Council President, Forester Tommy T. Valdez. A total of five (5) sessions were conducted (3 pre-Project and 2 Project-proper) that enabled forestry stakeholders to understand the house bills filed and participate in the consolidation of the filed legislations. After the review series, each TWG member organization conducted their respective in-house reviews with recommendations presented during policy dialogues. During the reviews spearheaded by the SFFI, the following highlights were discussed:
(a) That the Bill should recognize all existing laws on forest land management. The SFFI elaborated that this include the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) (Republic Act No. 7586), as amended by Republic Act No. 10629 and 84 Republic Act No. 11038 and its amendments ; Republic Act No. 9147 87 or the “Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act”; Republic Act No. 8371 or the “Indigenous People’s Rights Act” ; and that all forest lands under the management or administration of local government units and other government agencies or instrumentalities shall be managed in accordance with their duly legislated charters and the principles and provisions of the Act. Some CSOs argued that there are also areas not included in the maps of the aforementioned statutes that need to be protected. The DENR mentioned that they have guidelines even in production forest lands concerning easements, key biodiversity areas, areas above 1,000 meters above sea level, areas with unique formation and soil types, etc. that safeguards development in forest lands. The SFFI agreed with committed to have this included in the draft.
(b) That forest management planning be done following watershed-based approach consistent with the science and natural behaviour of forest lands. Some NGOs argued that the watershed continuum approach be used instead given that the ridge-to-reef concept. SFFI explained that while it agree with the concept, this may be difficult to adopt given that this will entail consulting and agreeing all activities with all stakeholders from forest lands down to coastal municipalities.
(c) That the definition of forests, tree plantation, and ecosystem terminologies stick with the generally-acceptable definitions set by the FAO. The SFFI agrees with the DENR that terminologies in the Bill follow the FAO definition. However, some NGOs argued that definitions be changed following what they prescribed as the functional definition. The SFFI disagreed and stick with the DENR recommendation.
(d) That the FMU or forest management units be adopted as a basic management unit under the Bill. The SFFI supported the FMU concept noting that this will put in order the issuance and management of tenurial instruments and facilitate sustainable forest management. Some NGOs argued that FMUs will compromise forest protection and may lead to further degradation. The SFFI explained that the current situation of the Philippine forest is that there are already around 25 million Filipinos residing and depending on it. The only way for the Government to management them is to partner with them in both protection and production of forest lands. The SFFI elaborated that the issuance of tenurial instruments mean that people will have the obligation to protect forest areas that need to be protected and utilize only on areas assigned for production.
(e) That protection and production forests should be mapped according to existing provisions of law and DENR guidelines. Some NGOs argued that forest cover should be at least 40% of the country’s land area consistent with the study “One Century of Forest Rehabilitation in the Philippines”. The SFFI agreed and emphasized that the purpose of which is not only for ecological services but also for livelihood as provided in the study.
(f) That the forest service be professionalized consistent with the existing law of the Philippines. Some CSOs argued that Director-level positions in the Government, particularly under the Forest Management Bureau (FMB), can be appointed and may only require related professions. The SFFI explained that Foresters have spent four years finishing the course and had to pass a licensure exam to practice giving it the authority consistent with RA 10690 or the Forestry Profession Act.
(g) That penalties for forest destruction should be increased. The SFFI agreed and recommended penalties to be increased to one million pesos without prejudice for imprisonment. NGO representatives agreed. The group requested DENR to revise the provisions in accordance to the agreement.
In the conclusion, the group agreed to request the SFFI and DENR to formulate the draft based on the comments and email the said draft to all participants for their review.