A Provincial Board (PB) member who expressed dismay over the newly imposed entrance fee collection at the Bilar Man-made Forest pushed on Tuesday for the legislative body to look into the controversial issue which has drawn heavy criticisms from the public.
Ex-officio PB Member Jescelo Adiong, in a privilege speech during the Sangguniang Panlalawigan’s regular session, asked for the SP to conduct an investigation on the fee collection in aid of legislation.
He seeks to come up with measures that would exempt tourist areas such as the man-made forest which straddles the towns of Loboc and Bilar from a national policy that mandates an environmental fee to be collected from visitors at government-protected areas.
“We are becoming obsessed with making money from our tourist spots,” Adiong said. “Dili kinahanglan na tanan mga lami na talan-awon sa atong probinsya atong pabayran, ngil-ad kaayo.”
“That’s why we should have some systems and policies that may regulate these kinds of money-making,” he added.
Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer (PENRO) Charlie Fabre earlier clarified that the fee system in protected areas was imposed through DENR Administrative Order (DAO) 2016-24 which was issued in 2016 during the term of the late former Environment Secretary Gina Lopez but whose implementation in the province has been stalled.
DAO 2016-24 amends DAO 1993-47 and implements a uniform fee rate of P30 for adults, P15 for students and senior citizens and P100 for foreigners for all protected areas in the country.
Fabre who was previously assigned in Negros Oriental before taking over as Bohol PENRO in late 2018 said that Bohol was already lagging in terms of the DAO’s implementation.
The imposition of the fee system at the Loboc Watershed Forest Reserve which includes the renowned man-made forest and is only one of 16 protected areas in Bohol was set in motion through a resolution passed by the area’s Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) in June last year.
Out of 16 protected areas in Bohol, only the PAMBs of Cabilao Sandingan Islands, Rajah Sikatuna Protected Landscape and Loboc Watershed Forest Reserve have passed resolutions adopting the DAO.
Each protected area has its own PAMB which is comprised of the governor, the congressman of the district where the site is located, mayor of the locality, and barangay captain of the concerned village and other officials.
Adiong called out Fabre for seemingly “bragging” that Negros Oriental was making more from environmental fees than Bohol.
Fabre noted that Negros Oriental was making over P16 million from environmental fees annually while Bohol made less than P2 million each year through Cabilao Sandingan Islands and Rajah Sikatuna Protected Landscape whose respective PAMBs previously passed a resolution implementing the fee system.
“I would like to demonstrate to him [Fabre] that we are not after the monetary consideration in order for us to be impressed with our tourist spots. It’s as if he was bragging of the monetary consideration, not the beauty of the province itself,” Adiong said.
According to Fabre, 75 percent of the revenues from the fees will go to the DENR but under the disposal of the PAMB for implementation of projects in accordance with the government’s general management plan while the 25 percent goes to national coffers.
Amid the strong opposition from various sectors against the fee implementation, Fabre said that fee collection at the man-made forest which was supposed to take effect this week was suspended pending a public hearing among the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), local officials and stakeholders in the tourism industry.
Doris Obena, president of the Kapunongan sa Bol-anong Guides (KABOG), confirmed on Tuesday that there have been no collections made so far at the man-made forest. (R. Tutas)