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2 separate departments for environment, natural resources

IN the last Congress, a bill was filed in the House of Representatives to split the Department of Environment and Natural Resources into two departments – the Department of Environment and the Department of Natural Resources.

During the 9th Biennial Convention of the Chinese Filipino Business Club at the Manila Hotel last February, Vice President Jejomar Binay, discussing his platform as a presidential candidate, said he would, if elected, split the DENR into two. “Environment is really a problem. We need a separate department for it,” he said. “Anything on natural resources, I would give to a Department of Natural Resources.”

Environment has become a leading worldwide concern because of climate change and the resulting rise in global temperatures that have, in turn, melted the Arctic and Antarctic glaciers and caused sea levels to rise. The Philippines has taken a leading role in developing renewable energy – notably solar, wind, and geothermal power – to gradually replace power now produced with coal and other polluting fossil fuels.

To give environment the attention it deserves, the move to split the DENR into two was conceived. At the same time, there was a similar move to split the Department of Transportation and Communication into two – this was the time Metro Manila traffic problem hogged national attention, so that it was thought it should have its own Department of Transportation to attend to it. Last May, President Aquino signed RA 10844 creating the Department of Information and Communications Technology, with the Department of Transportation now standing as a separate department.

The move to also split the DENR has now been recalled in the wake of reports that President-elect Duterte has named well-known environmentalist Gina L. Lopez to be the next DENR secretary. The mining and oil sectors promptly fell in the Philippine stock market. The appointment will be good for environmentalists but there will be challenges for the mining sector, one analyst commented. A few hours after the close of trading, President-elect Duterte, addressing a business gathering in Davao City, assured that Philippine mining has a good future ahead of it.

The new secretary must be able to balance economic growth with the need to protect the environment and indigenous communities, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines said in a statement Wednesday. It will be a difficult balancing act for Lopez.

This might be an opportune time to revisit the move to split the DENR so that its two concerns – protecting the environment and developing natural resources – could be more fully attended to by two separate departments.