The fruitful joint committee hearing in the House of Representatives has shown the lawmakers’ “sense of urgency” in strengthening the enforcement capacity of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), agency chief Sec. Roy A. Cimatu said.
“What we are seeing is a sense of urgency and concerted effort at the House of Representatives and the Senate to reform the implementation of environmental laws of the land and establish a strong institution whose singular task is to be the government’s backbone in running after violators of our environmental laws like illegal loggers and wildlife poachers,” Cimatu said in a statement Wednesday, March 24.
The Cabinet official was referring to a March 3 hearing by the House Committees on Government Reorganization and on Natural Resources, where six House Bills (HB) aimed at strengthening environmental laws were tackled.
The hearing, jointly presided by Government reorganization panel chairman, Batangas Rep. Mario Vittorio A. Mariño and his Natural Resources panel counterpart, Cavite Rep. Elpidio F. Barzaga, Jr. facilitated discussions on the proposed Environmental Protection and Enforcement Bureau (EPEB), which four of the six bills sought to form.
Barzaga and Mariño agreed to form a technical working group (TWG) that will study and consolidate the four measures. These are HB Nos. 6973, 7670, 7873, and 8028, which were filed by Antique Rep. Loren Legarda, Ilocos Norte Rep. Angelo Barba, South Cotabato Rep. Ferdinand Hernandez, and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte, respectively.
Cimatu expressed optimism that the EPEB–which would serve as the permanent enforcement bureau of the DENR–would be created soon as a result of the joint House panel discussions.
Two counterpart bills on the creation of the EPEB have already been filed at the Senate, or the upper legislative chamber, the DENR noted. These are Senate Bill (SB) No.1878 filed by Senator Nancy Binay and SB No.1579 filed by Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.
Environmental Protection and Enforcement Task Force (EPETF) Executive Director Nilo B. Tamoria attended the joint House panel hearing as a resource person.
“The EPEB bills seek to consolidate and strengthen DENR’s mandate to enforce environmental laws through a single office whose core function is exclusively enforcement,” he said when asked to comment on the bills.
Tamoria cited the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) as an example why an enforcement bureau within the DENR should be created.
“Yes, the MGB has enforcement powers but it has to be done in coordination with other law enforcement agencies as provided for under Republic Act (RA) 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995,” he said.
Representatives from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) also expressed their support for the EPEB creation during the hearing.