Seven government agencies have joined forces to form a task force that would go after large-scale environmental offenders, and ensure full and strict implementation of vital laws and regulations on environmental protection.

These agencies include the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of National Defense (DND), Department of Transportation (DOTr), Philippine National Police (PNP), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Present in the signing were Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, Local Government Secretary Ismael Sueno, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, Philippine National Police Chief Director General Ronald “Bato” M. dela Rosa, PCG Commandant William Melad, DND Undersecretary Eduardo del Rosario and Chief of Staff for the DND Secretary Peter Galvez, and BGen. Restituto Padilla, representing AFP Chief Gen. Ricardo Visayas.

The MOA signing was held on Monday at the DENR central office in Quezon City.

DENR Secretary Gina Lopez said the MOA calls for the creation of a National Anti-Environmental Crimes Task Force, which will be chaired by her agency.

The MOA includes a Declaration of Cooperation in which the agencies agree to immediately respond to verified reports of large-scale environmental violations referred by the task force.

They also accede to enhance implementation of environmental laws "from deterrence, investigation, arrest, searches, prosecution and enforcement of judgments against illegal natural resources extraction and degradation, and for the protection of environmental quality."

All parties shall ensure that communities facing environmental injustice, harassment or threats are protected from environmental law violators; promote cross-agency coordination; ensure the sustained impacts of enforcement actions; and enhance the deterrent power of the agencies as part of their regular performance of functions.

Under the MOA, the Task Force shall assess law enforcement needs and operations; form multisectoral law enforcement teams as needed; and conduct monthly action planning to address major environmental issues or deal with intractable violators.

It shall provide "quick response to urgent calls" from the DENR Secretary, keep operations and investigations approved by authorized officers confidential, and “set up checkpoints, camps or stations to be manned by multisectoral teams in flashpoints and transit points of illegally harvested or hunted natural resources."

Each party shall have specific obligations in accordance with their mandate.

In addition, the DILG shall provide additional support from local government units and the Philippine National Police (PNP), the DND from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the DOTr from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

In last week's Mindanao Environmental Summit held in Davao City, Lopez lamented the environmental destruction brought about by mining operations and other businesses which caused suffering for many people.

Since Lopez assumed office on July 1, a total of seven mining firms have already been suspended for not complying with environmental and safety standards.

The DENR chief emphasized that the suspended mining companies must be made accountable for the destruction they have caused by rehabilitating the areas affected by their operations.

"They (suspended mining firms) killed the rivers, the streams. They caused social suffering. They must rehabilitate. That is social justice," Lopez said.

She also said that under her watch, the DENR will pursue both enforcement and development within the environment and natural resources sector. ###