Youth solon bats for more funds for biodiversity conservation

KABATAAN Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino urged the government to allot more funds to boost biodiversity conservation programs, noting that the said programs are receiving measly allocations from the national budget every year.

“While the Philippine Development Plan states that the improvement of conservation, protection and rehabilitation of natural resources is a top priority, the measly allocation for our conservation programs reflects the government’s wishy-washy commitment to protect the country’s rich but dwindling natural resources,” Palatino said.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)’s proposed 2013 budget of P23 billion is 36 percent higher compared to this year’s P16.9 billion budget. “But it seems the government has forgotten to infuse additional funds for the country’s conservation program which is vital in reversing the fast deterioration of the country’s ecosystem,” Palatino said.

The Apo and Tubbataha Reefs, for example, cover an area totalling 129 square kilometers, yet a measly P2 million is allotted next year in the budget of DENR for the rehabilitation and conservation of both reefs.

“The marine resources in both reefs are endemic only in the Philippines but it seems the government does not fully appreciate the value of protecting these underwater wonders of nature. Poachers and big foreign fishermen can easily match the P2 million budget of the Apo and Tubbataha Reef rehabilitation project in order to gain access to the reef and plunder the resources there,” Palatino said.

The government is funding seven biodiversity conservation programs next year (see sidebar), with most programs only receiving funding for operating expenses. Except for the Pawikan program, the government’s biodiversity conservation projects have no funds for personal services.

“This means that the DENR cannot hire permanent staff or paid personnel to oversee the conservation projects. How can the DENR effectively protect 5 threatened species (tarsier, Philippine Eagle, Tamaraw, Pawikan, crocodile) and establish 10 critical habitats next year if it doesn’t have enough manpower to implement the conservation projects?” Palatino asked.

To plug deficiencies in the allocation for conservation programs, DENR should either consider realigning some items for other programs to produce more funds for biodiversity conservation programs, or Congress amend the general appropriations bill to strengthen the financial status of the country’s various conservation projects, the youth solon explained.

“The Philippines is known for possessing one of the richest biodiversity in the world, and yet the government considers conservation projects as mere trifles. The thing about threats to biodiversity is that once damaged, it is irreplaceable. If we don’t prioritize conservation programs now, who knows how many more species would we lose in the coming year,” Palatino said.

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