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Ilonggo Network

Brgy officials as conservation agent

Elections are here again, and today, voters all over the country will elect their barangay leaders, from captain to kagawad.

The barangay is considered the basic unit of governance in our country. In fact, it is only at the barangay level that legislative, judicial and executive functions are provided to barangay officials, because they can enact local ordinances, can implement programs and projects, and administer barangay justice.

Barangay officials are more accessible to communities and quite familiar with the residents. It is for this reason that politicians are primarily soliciting the support of barangay officials during elections of other elective posts in the Philippines.

The Local Government Code of 1991 did not specifically devolve certain functions of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to barangays. However, as agents in delivering basic social services and ensuring the safety and welfare of communities, barangay officials maybe provided with responsibilities related to environment and natural resources management. This is particularly true in remote areas, where the presence of concerned national government agencies is hardly felt.

In most cases, forest, coastal and marine conservation efforts are even more successful in areas where barangay officials are very concern about environmental protection and natural resources conservation. Unfortunately, there are sites, too, where barangay officials are engaged in the illegal extraction of natural resources or are coddling illegal resource users.

The participation of barangay officials in environmental protection is best demonstrated in protected areas, like the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park, Sagay Marine Reserve and the Northern Negros Natural Park. It should be noted that the Protected Area Management Board, of which membership would include a representative of every barangay covering a particular protected area, is administering each protected area in the Philippines.

Barangay officials, therefore, play a crucial role in influencing the decision-making processes of the PAMB, especially so that the PAMB is a site-based policy making body of a protected area. In the past, during the decision whether to allow or not the entry of the then Philippines National Oil Corporation–Energy Development Corporation for geothermal energy development in MKNP, it was majority of the PAMB members who made affirmative votes.

For barangay officials to actively participate in the PAMB, they should be provided with enough awareness and capacity building on PA management and biodiversity conservation, in general. This is especially important in protected areas where majority of PAMB members are representatives of the different barangays. Barangay officials are in the best position to implement whatever decisions rendered by PAMB, since they are the ones who are actually in the ground.

Barangay officials may also be deputized as environment and natural resources officers or wildlife enforcement officers of the DENR. Given the proximity of barangays in coastal and some remaining forested areas, they can actually enforce applicable laws and regulations in their areas of responsibility. They can further mobilize other community members to participate in forest or coastal protection initiatives.

In some municipalities, barangay officials are leading in the formation and operation of community-based forest protection system, while in coastal areas, the barangay captain acts as the chair of local fisheries and agriculture resources management council.

Given the deteriorating state of our environment and the continuing depletion of our natural resources, it is necessary that various mechanisms be explored to involve the different sectors of our society in environmental protection, particularly the basic unit of government, which is the barangay. After all, conservation matters if it becomes everyone's business.*

(Author's note: This article is also available online at )

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