BAGUIO CITY – The Regional Development Council Watershed and Environmental Management Committee (WEMC) led by DENR-CAR Regional Executive Director and Committee Chair Ralph Pablo with NEDA Regional Director and RDC Vice chair Milagros Rimando addressed concerns and set priorities for 2019 during the committee’s 1st quarter meeting in Baguio City last March 7, 2019. Included in the agenda were the continued monitoring of Minahang Bayan applications, the Integrated Natural Resources and Environmental Management (INREMP) in the Upper Chico River Basin, the proposed Banao and Palispis protected areas under the Extended National Integrated Protected Areas (NIPAS) project, and plans for the improving of the water quality of Benguet’s Bued and Balili rivers.

The committee continued to give priority to the monitoring of the fifty-four Minahang Bayan sites. Currently, only three sites have been cleared by the DENR central office, namely, in Loacan, Itogon. Other sites have been in various stages in of clearances and permissions. Small-scale miners have cited the many permits one has to secure prior to having an area declared for Minahang Bayan as an issue on the prolonged application process. Permits and clearances must be obtained from the regional office of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples as well as the central office of DENR. The committee initiated the move to request DENR and NCIP to simplify the requirements and approval process for the declaration of Minahang Bayan in the Cordillera. It was signed as a joint resolution by the RDC and Regional Peace and Order Council last December. The resolution was also a result of the committee’s response to the situation of small-scale mining areas after Typhoon Ompong.

Other matters discussed included the Busol-harvesting facilities under construction by the Baguio Water District and DPWH. The Environmental Management Bureau presented activities and events they have lined-up to spearhead the improvement of the water quality of the heavily polluted Bued and Balili rivers.

Beyond all these projects are plans to invest in continuing sustainable development for the region. NEDA-CAR presented the Investments Priority Plan (IPP) for the environment sector. Initially, the top priority investment areas are eco-tourism, alternative hydropower generation, metals engineering and processing, and, gold, copper, and silver production. The WEMC suggested to consider the disaster management program as an additional investment area to mitigate losses in production and infrastructure due to damages during typhoons.