Secretary Gina Lopez on Thursday announced numerous reforms to make the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) more effective in fulfilling its mandate as the leading government agency responsible for the conservation, management, development and proper use of the country's environment and natural resources.

Lopez said that upon their effectivity and implementation, the reforms would make DENR programs and services more efficient and accessible to the people, and consistent with her principles on providing social justice.

The reforms would cover policies related to forest, land, protected area (PA), and environmental management, she said.

Proposed priority policies under land management were presented as Lopez commits to make land titling service easier, more accessible and transparent to the public.

Strategies include allowing barangay offices to accept public land titling applications; providing barangays with cadastral maps with ongoing titling operations; and posting of process flow for titling, with corresponding requirements and fees.

Beneficiaries of free, homestead and sales patents can also expect soon support on managing their land from the Land Management Bureau and the DENR’s corporate arm, the Natural Resources Development Corporation.

Among others, title holders can expect assistance in coordinating with other appropriate government offices on land development, payment of taxes and other fees, and land preservation for climate change resiliency.

The LMB has drafted guidelines regarding non-requirement of tax declaration in filing, accepting, and processing of agricultural and residential free patent applications, in lieu of which actual land occupants can present other applicable proof.

The DENR is also strategizing to maximize benefits from PAs through a special use agreement or SAPA.

The Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB), which oversees PA management in the country, has proposed the imposition of development fees based on zonal value of PAs and any improvements therein. Further, the proponent shall pay an administrative fee for every SAPA application filed.

Income from SAPA fees will be accrued to the Integrated PA Fund, which could increase income to be utilized for improving PA management and operations while decreasing subsidy from the national government.

The agency is eyeing a partnership with the Department of Agriculture in mainstreaming biodiversity-friendly agricultural practices in and around PAs. The move is expected to address issues such as unregulated conversion of PAs to agricultural lands, and demonstrate how the environmental, social, and economic components of social development can be harmonized.

The DENR has also identified several areas of improvement to protect and conserve the country’s watersheds for survival.

It launched a control map as a standard for the use of the country’s environment and natural resources (ENR), and to promote evidence-based planning and decision making.

The map integrates all spatial information collected and produced by agency on forestland, protected areas, and mining tenements.

It would contribute to a better prioritization of the agency’s programs and projects, ensure equitable allocation of resources, and aid in disaster risk reduction, mitigation and adaptation.

In a bid to promote a green economy, the DENR is establishing the Philippine Forest Certification System or PFCS which adopts a standard labelling system to ensure that all wood products come from legal and sustainably-managed forests.

Lopez said that the PFCS would result to “healthier forests, communities and workers” and help prevent illegal wood harvesting or logging while promoting employment that is “compliant with all fundamental International Labor Organization conventions.”

The DENR’s Forest Management Bureau (FMB) is also aiming to streamline wood processing plant permits by extending their validity from three to five years. The scheme is expected to attract more investors, provide less transaction costs, improve security of tenure, and help meet the domestic demand for wood-based products.

In an effort to improve air quality in Metro Manila, the DENR will designate EDSA in Metro Manila as a non-attainment area for exceeding pollution standards.

The Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) is set to revise emission standards for criteria pollutants, specifically sulfur oxide (SO2), from source-specific air pollutants to promote a safer, cleaner and healthier environment.

The standard will be lowered to 400 milligrams per normal cubic meter (mg/Ncm), compared to 1,500 mg/Ncm standard prior to the implementation of Republic Act 8749, also known as the Clean Air Act.

SO2 has been found to be one of the leading causes of respiratory diseases. The standards have been patterned to international health standards.

The DENR will also make use of technology to promote transparency and accountability.

One of these is with the launch later this month of Environmentor, a mobile application that will easily show the user the location of forestlands, ancestral domains, mining tenements, flood-prone areas, fault lines, and PAs.

The EMB will implement online submission of monitoring data as a strategy in “bringing quality service to our people” by providing an adequate and timely feedback mechanism.

The bureau also announced that it now requires a programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS) for proponents of sand and gravel projects securing an environmental compliance certificate or ECC.

Finally, Lopez vowed to enhance public participation in the various stages of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) system or from its onset to the evaluation stage. ###