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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, June 19, 2017
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with ERROL A. GATUMBATO
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Patag as tourism zone

Last week, I came across Republic Act 8059 that declared Barangay Patag in Silay City as a tourism zone, and it reminded me of policy issues affecting the site, relative to its inclusion, as well as part of the Northern Negros Natural Park.

RA 8059 was passed on June 15, 1995, and it requires the Department of Tourism, in coordination with the Philippines Tourism Authority and other concerned government agencies, to prepare a development plan involving the construction, installation, and maintenance of appropriate facilities and infrastructure that will enhance the tourism potentials of Patag, one of the scenic sites and known tourism destinations in Negros Occidental.

RA 8059, which, I think, was authored by former Rep. Kako Lacson from the 3 rd congressional district of Negros Occidental, provides environmental safeguards by articulating that any development in Patag shall ensure the preservation of its natural beauty and historical significance. It further mandates the DOT to promulgate the necessary rules and regulations for the implementation of this republic act, and the integration of Patag's development plan to the overall tourism agenda of the country.

The NNNP was formerly declared as the Northern Negros Forest Reserve in 1946, and it automatically became an initial component of the National Integrated Protected Areas System of the Philippines when RA 7586 was approved in June 1992. While there are concerns on the application of RA 7586 to initial components of the NIPAS, it is widely recognized that these sites are already classified as protected areas. Initial components are sites that have been declared as national park, forest reserve, watershed reservation, wildlife and bird sanctuaries, or other reservations, by virtue of presidential proclamations, executive orders, or laws before the passage of RA 7586.

An initial component has to be evaluated, and when found to possess natural features and characteristics that merit its designation as a protected area, it will be proclaimed as such through a presidential proclamation and eventually a congressional enactment. This is precisely what happened to the NNNP when Presidential Proclamation 895 was issued on August 15, 2005, which placed its land area of about 80,454.50 hectares as part of the NIPAS.

What policy governs Patag, given its declaration as a tourism zone and at the same time a part of the NNNP?

Looking into the management arrangement of Patag may further create confusion. RA 8059 placed it under the DOT, while its proclamation as part of the NNNP gave the Protected Area Management Board and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources jurisdiction over the area. Although it is now locally recognized that Patag is within the NNNP, issues may arise, especially with the prevailing condition of the area, where numerous tourism facilities were already established and operational, including mountain resorts and private vacation houses. There were several certificates of stewardship contract issued to settlers in Patag under the Integrated Social Forestry Program, which had been devolved by the DENR to the provincial government.

By principles of laws for a specific concern, a recent law prevails over a previous one, as in the case of RA 8059 (1995) and RA 7586 (1992), and a presidential proclamation could not amend or supersede a law passed by the Congress, as in the case of PP 895 (2005) and RA 8059. Unlike with RA 7586 that has clear and detailed implementing rules and regulations, as far as I know, the DOT did not come out with implementing regulations to implement RA 8059, and, therefore, the later policy seems being ignored in the overall management of Patag.

Given these circumstances, what are the possible options that should be explored by the different stakeholders to address both the intention of RAs 7586 and 8059?

I would like to view this policy concern in Patag in a much broader context and application. I reviewed these two laws and they are actually complimentary. Both laws recognize the natural features of Patag, with RA 8059 exploring its tourism potentials that will not destroy its natural beauty and historical significance, while RA 7586 protects it from destructive activities for biodiversity conservation purposes.

Natural parks, like the NNNP, are also intended for recreational and education purposes, which may include ecotourism development. It is now a question on what guidelines apply and who regulates the different tourism activities in Patag, given also the stake of land tenure holders and local government in the area.

If the DOT intends to craft RA 8059's implementing regulations, it may include provisions recognizing the NNNP, while the PA management plan should also stipulate that Patag is a tourism zone. The DENR and DOT may also issue a joint administrative order.

It is very important that the DOT and the PAMB shall develop, adopt, and implement a common management plan for Patag. It may also be of help if partnership agreement among the DOT, DENR, PAMB, and Silay and the provincial governments shall be executed to define institutional responsibility, obligations, and accountability of each contracting party.

The best and viable option is the crafting and approval of a specific law for NNNP by the Congress that will address numerous issues and challenges prevailing not only in Patag but the entire protected area.*


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