Environment Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje has called on all protected area management boards (PAMBs) across the country to give priority to forest fire prevention in their management planning strategy to ensure the protection of the nation’s biodiversity and their habitats.

Paje made the statement in light of the series of grassfire outbreaks in the four of the country’s most important protected areas: Mt. Apo in Davao; Mt. Matutum in South Cotabato; Mt. Kitanglad in Bukidnon; and Mt. Kanlaon in Negros Island. The fire in Mt. Apo remains unabated.

“Aside from tourism development, PAMBs should also come up with their respective forest protection plan and allocate funds for the establishment of fire lines and other forest fire prevention activities like training for technical staff and volunteers,” Paje said.

The environment chief also underscored the need to intensify the public awareness campaign against forest fire, especially before the onset of the dry season.

“The public, particularly the local communities within or near the protected areas should be reminded to exercise extra vigilance against the risk of forest fires as protected areas, including natural parks and wildlife sanctuaries, are considered as the last remaining representatives of the country’s habitats and ecosystems,” he said.

At the same time, he also appealed to campers and trekkers in protected areas to be more responsible by exercising caution when building bonfires and making sure these are completely extinguished before leaving the place.

According to Paje, even if the responsibility to suppress forest fires was already transferred to the Bureau of Fire Protection, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) provides technical support to joint fire fighting teams of BFP and other government agencies, and volunteer groups.

He has also instructed his regional directors to heighten their coordination with concerned local government units (LGUs) and people’s organizations to ensure the safety of people and forest vegetation, particularly in areas covered by the government’s National Greening Program.

As of December 31, 2015, around 1.3 million hectares have been planted with various species of forest trees and agroforestry crops under the NGP, according to DENR report.

Paje also said he had coordinated with Director Renato Solidum of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) following a report from DENR Region 11 Director Joselin Marcus Fragada that sulfur deposit on Mt. Apo may be causing the continuous fire.

Fragada said the Philippine Air Force has already used crushed ice to stop the fire, but to no avail.

The Philippines has a total of 113 proclaimed protected areas, of which 84 are terrestrial PAs with an area of 2.20 million hectares. ###