House forest-management bill requiring sustainable practices passes on 2nd reading

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A BILL requiring the protection and sustainable management of forests has been approved by the House of Representatives on second reading.

House Bill No. 9088, or the “Sustainable Forest Management Act,” which was approved via voice vote, also proposed to establish a Sustainable Forest Development Fund.

House Majority Leader Fredenil H. Castro of the 2nd district of Capiz said he expects third-reading approval of the bill before the 17th Congress adjourns on June 7.

“I am confident that it can be approved on third reading if we have a quorum,” Mr. Castro, who is among the authors of the bill, said in a phone message Thursday. Its counterpart measure, Senate Bill No. 402, written by Senator Loren B. Legarda, however, remains pending at the committee level.

If enacted, it will establish Forest Management Units under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to formulate management plans for forests.

The plan covers the sustainable management of mangrove resources and forest land considered mined-out or abandoned fishpond areas, and the utilization of forest resources, including those within ancestral land.

It will also allow the DENR and any natural or juridical person to enter into a Forest Management Agreement for the exploration, development and utilization of forest lands and resources.

“The Forest Management Agreement shall have a duration of 25 years and may be extended for another 25 years,” as stated under section 24 of the bill.

The agreements may be for the purpose of agroforestry plantations, forest plantation development, ecotourism development and other special uses.

The measure also hopes to establish the Sustainable Forest Development Fund to finance proposals for the FMU. It identified the DENR as the preferred government financing institution to invest 75% of the net interest income from loans extended for forest development.

The SFDF may also be sourced from at least 70% of imposed forest charges and collected government share as well as local and international grants, donations, and endowment.

Further, the bill will ban illegal practices such as utilization or possession of forest resources from protected forest land, the illegal harvest of forest resources, and unauthorized grazing of livestock, among others. Violators may face up to 20 years’ imprisonment and face fines of up to P1 million. — Charmaine A. Tadalan