Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito on Wednesday called on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to consider buying helicopters to better fulfill its mandate in protecting, conserving and managing the country’s environment and natural resources.
Ejercito made the recommendation after finding out during the Senate hearing of the DENR’s proposed PHP24.171-billion budget for 2019 that the agency has practically no flying assets.
When asked by the lawmaker how the agency monitors illegal activities, DENR Undersecretary Ernesto Adobo Jr. said the agency relies on new technologies, like drones, and the LAWIN Protection System.
LAWIN is a strategy that seeks to conserve the forest and biodiversity with the involvement of the community by using a mobile application to report real-time environmental abuses.
Adobo said the agency has one helicopter, but it is rarely used due to the prohibitive cost of fuel and maintenance.
“It is very costly to maintain a chopper. Whenever we need a chopper, we ask the Department of National Defense (DND) for support,” Adobo said.
“We have an agreement with DND and we just pay for the flying hours whenever we need a helicopter,” he added.
Ejercito, however, said having their own air assets at their disposal would enable the DENR to effectively monitor illegal activities, especially in forested and protected areas.
“As lawmakers, we travel a lot and we can see a lot of things from above. You could easily (see) the areas that you could not easily see on the ground,” the senator said.
Besides, he said, it would take authorities days to traverse forest areas, while it only takes hours or minutes it they do the same with a helicopter.
“My worry especially is in mountainous areas and the eastern seaboard on the other side of the Cordilleras. Mahirap puntahan yan (That’s difficult to reach),” he said.
“It’s hard to be blind. May black sand mining, open pit mining na pala kung saan, hindi pa natin alam (There could be black sand mining or open pit mining anywhere and yet we could not be aware of it),” he said.
Ejercito said the DENR could consider purchasing a Robinsons R44 chopper like the one being used by Senator Cynthia Villar in various public hearings and commitments throughout the country.
He said it is one of the cheapest choppers in the market, calling it a “poor man’s” helicopter, and has low operating cost.
“I think it costs about USD300,000. It is reliable and economical,” Ejercito said.
Villar, who was also present during hearing, supported the suggestion, saying the gasoline requirement of the R44 is only like that of a full-size 8-cylinder sport utility vehicle (SUV).
“Maybe you can purchase because having an eye in the sky is very important in environmental protection. It’s very practical and maybe you can have one each for Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao,” Ejercito said.
He added that having helicopters is not a luxury but a necessity to monitor the country’s remaining natural resources.
Along with the drones and other technologies available, helicopters would enhance the DENR’s capability in protecting the natural beauty of the country.
“Nanghihinayang ako kasi ang ganda ng Pilipinas kaya lang napapabayaan. Ang sakit tignan na may nang-aabuso (I feel sad because the Philippines is such a beautiful country and yet it is not protected. It is painful to see someone abusing it),” he said.
“The Philippines is a beautiful country and I hope we can preserve what is still there,” Ejercito said.
DENR officials said they would seriously study the recommendation and immediately submit their proposals.