Local accountabilities, responsibilities
With the assumption of office of the elected local officials during the May 9 elections, I would like to reiterate the accountabilities and responsibilities of local government units in terms of environment and natural resources management.
While it is true that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is the primary national government agency responsible for ENR management, local authorities are also given paramount importance on this particular responsibility, if only they will be keen in observing and implementing the Local Government Code or Republic Act 7160, which was enacted way back in 1991.
The LGC basically devolved certain authorities, responsibilities, and functions of national government agencies to LGUs. Although there are certain limitations on some devolved functions, the Code likewise provided several mechanisms for LGUs to enhance and strengthen the delivery of services they can provide to their constituents, including in the field of environmental protection and natural resources conservation.
One of the highly criticized provisions of the LGC is on the optional hiring of local environment and natural resources officer for each LGU. In spite of this, several local governments in the country, such as the provinces of Negros Occidental, Oriental Mindoro, and Agusan del Sur, to name a few, have established their regular ENR offices with corresponding personnel and annual appropriation.
As far as I know, the cities of Bacolod, San Carlos, Silay, and Cadiz in Negros Occidental have also established their own regular ENR offices. In most cases, LGUs are only designating ENR officers from the ranks of their regular personnel, who are holding different positions.
Why is it critical for LGUs to take on the responsibilities on ENR management? The provincial government, for instance, is provided with authority to enforce forestry laws on community-based forestry projects, including community watersheds and communal forests. On the other hand, the municipal LGUs are vested with authority to enforce fishery laws in municipal waters, including the conservation of mangroves. In addition, the municipal LGUs are directed to implement community-based forestry projects to include management, protection, rehabilitation, and maintenance of communal forests and community watershed areas that are sources of local water supply.
The city governments are similarly provided with authority to implement forestry projects and the enforcement of forestry laws, rules and regulations within community-based project areas, community watershed, and communal forests that are located within their territorial jurisdictions.
Although all these functions provided by the LGC to LGUs are still subject to the control, review, supervision, and monitoring of the DENR, it is important that they should exercise these responsibilities. I attended numerous meetings and conferences for the review of the LGC, and while there were recommendations for its amendments, it did not prosper in Congress for several years already. Just the same, using the LGC, our local governments can do much when it comes to ENR management.
Using the LGC as a policy framework, I used to work for a European-funded project of the Haribon Foundation and Birdlife International in preparing the forest management plan of Sibalom in Antique and Sablayan in Oriental Mindoro. It helped a lot for the LGUs in terms of capacity building and development and implementation of local policies and programs on ENR management.
In the Polillo Group of Islands in Quezon province, I also developed the concept of Local Conservation Areas, and together with a team composed of local and international experts, we provided technical assistance to five LGUs covering this group of islands to declare biologically important sites as LCAs. To date, the municipalities of Polillo, Burdeos, Panukulan, Patnanungan, and Jomalig are managing these LCAs. In fact, Polillo was one of the finalists in last year's Gawad Pook Awards for the LCA.
If only the LGUs maximize the LGC, they can be effective agents of environmental protection and natural resources conservation. At this point in time that our environment continues to deteriorate, it is of no help to rely only on the DENR when it comes to ENR management, because the LGUs are already provided with certain responsibilities and accountabilities, including adoption of mitigation measures on issues related to climate change, as well as the solid waste management.*