New DENR order gives teeth to environmental law enforcement

Published June 21, 2021, 5:54 PM

by Ellson Quismorio

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has taken a major step toward strengthening environmental law enforcement in the country.

DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu answers questions from reporters during the agency’s anniversary celebration last June 10, 2021 (Screengrab from Zoom meeting)

This, after DENR Secretary Roy A. Cimatu signed an administrative order for the establishment of the Environmental Law Enforcement and Protection Service (ELEPS).

“We have a growing number of fallen environmental heroes. This is how serious we do our jobs here at DENR, but I hope and pray that no more lives will be lost because of defending our environment,” Cimatu said during the DENR’s 34th founding anniversary celebration on June 10.

The ELEPS will serve as an interim service while the DENR awaits the approval of the proposed Environmental Protection and Enforcement Bureau (EPEB) bill that was filed in the Senate and House of Representatives.

Through ELEPS, enforcement officers will be able to conduct intelligence operations, issue notices of appearance for investigation, as well as implement cease and desist orders, closure orders, and notices of violation, and DENR enforcement orders for in flagrante violations, among others.

Under the DENR administrative order, ELEPS will cover “all environmental laws as enumerated in the Supreme Court Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases involving enforcement or violations of environmental and natural resources laws, rules and regulations,” such as Terrestrial Laws, Coastal, Marine, and Aquatic Resources Laws, Aerial Law, and other Environment and Natural Resources Laws.

ELEPS was created as a defined authority that will promote effective and strong enforcement of environmental laws, establish coordinative mechanisms, utilize science and technology, and develop highly competent manpower that will encompass existing enforcement units, such as the Environmental Protection and Enforcement Task Force (EPETF), Philippine Operations Group on Ivory and Illegal Wildlife (POGI), and other enforcement task forces of the DENR.

Among its several functions, ELEPS has end-to-end duties–from the enforcement, stoppage of ongoing violations, arrest, management of confiscated items, investigation, preparation for prosecution of environmental criminals until execution of decisions by the court.

ELEPS will also coordinate with the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Philippine National Police (PNP), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and government-owned and controlled organizations to aid in the prevention and fight against environmental crimes.

Cimatu has directed DENR Undersecretary for Enforcement Benito de Leon to provide capacity building and enforcement trainings to the enforcement officers. However, the agency will not issue firearms to the officers pending the approval of the EPEB bill.