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The 1987 Philippines Constitution provides that the modification of boundaries of national parks shall only be allowed through a law passed by Congress.

National park is one of the four major land classifications specified in the Constitution. This would include areas that were declared as protected areas, like the Northern Negros Natural Park, under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, or Republic Act 7586.

While the proposal to slice certain areas of NNNP to become the townsite of Don Salvador Benedicto, through an act of Congress, may be feasible, to my knowledge, there were no similar circumstances that happened since the NIPAS Act was enacted in 1992.

There were several bills that have been submitted to Congress for consideration of converting parts of PAs as alienable and disposal lands, but none of them prospered into laws.

Reportedly, Negros Occidental’s first district Representative Julio Ledesma had a bill filed in the last Congress for the conversion of the NNNP’s 200 hectares as A&D lands. Similar attempts have been made for Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park in northern Luzon, and Naujan Lake National Park in Mindoro, but to no avail. The case of the area declared for geothermal energy development in Mount Kanla-on Natural Park is entirely a different thing, since it was proclaimed as a buffer zone, and technically, it is still part and parcel of the PA.

In Mount Malindang in Mindanao, there was also a recommendation before that a municipality inside it shall be taken out from the boundary of the PA. However, in a law passed by Congress declaring Mount Malindang as a natural park, the proposal was never considered. Will this attempt in NNNP become the first of its kind in the Philippines?

One of the contentious issues in land conversion involving PAs is the kind of land classification by which they will be converted. Based on the Constitution, there are three possible options – mineral lands, agricultural lands or A&D lands, and forestlands.

In the case of NNNP, the area proposed to become A&D is not feasible since its physical features still fall under forestland, especially so that majority of NNNP’s lands are located in slopes over 18 percent and found in higher elevations.

This proposal, once approved, has implication to the entire PA system in the country. It should be understood that most, if not all of our 240 protected areas, already contain settlement, a similar situation with that of the NNNP. This attempt in NNNP will create a precedent that may ultimately jeopardize the very purpose of declaring protected areas for purposes of biodiversity conservation and sustainability of ecosystem services they provide to the people.

This would become a policy dilemma to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that has committed to increase the coverage of PAs under its commitment to the Convention of Biological Diversity of the United Nations.

The other important element that needs to be considered is the possible intrusion of more settlers in the NNNP and may further threaten the remaining forests and other biologically important resources in the area, especially the threatened endemic species of Negros. The conversion of some of the NNNP’s lands into A&D would encourage additional settlements because of the possibility of landownership and titling.*

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