ASEAN Biodiversity Hero Loren Legarda scores another win for nature with new PENCAS law

by Ellon Labana

Unrelenting in her commitment as an environment champion, four-term senator and ASEAN Biodiversity Hero Loren Legarda has led the passing of Republic Act 11995, also known as the Philippine Ecosystem and Natural Capital Accounting System (PENCAS) Law. 

This landmark legislation—the first of its kind in ASEAN, establishes a comprehensive information system and accounting framework that considers the role of natural capital and its impact on the economy. 

The ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity is proud that the chief architect behind the passing of the PENCAS Law is a recipient  of an ASEAN prestigious recognition—the ASEAN Biodiversity Heroes (ABH) Award. 

The multi-faceted eco-warrior, media personality, and legislator Senator Legarda, was one of the hailed ABH in 2022 for her significant contributions to biodiversity in the Philippines. The ABH Programme recognises outstanding ASEAN citizens who made exemplary contributions to the conservation of biodiversity in the region. At present, the ABH has 19 recipients throughout Southeast Asia, with two Filipinos among them: the late marine biologist Dr. Angel Alcala and Senator Legarda.

The ABH were selected based on the relevance of their contributions to biodiversity conservation, the impact of these contributions to biodiversity conservation efforts in their respective countries and the region, the replicability of their actions, and the recognition they received in communities where they belong. 

In an interview, Senator Legarda said that the PENCAS Act is a transformative development for the Philippines. “As we embrace PENCAS, we affirm our commitment to valuing our natural resources alongside our economic metrics,” she said. 

It is a data-driven approach that will inform policy making, allocate resources efficiently, raise public awareness, and align with global sustainability goals, solidifying the importance of preserving these invaluable natural assets for economic and environmental well-being,” added the senator. 

For the past three decades, Senator Legarda has worked, sponsored, and authored landmark laws on environmental governance, protection of the environment, climate change, and conservation of natural resources, among other issues. One of the earliest laws that she principally authored was the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act or Republic Act No. 9003, passed into law in January 2001. Other pioneering environmental laws that she principally authored and sponsored include the Climate Change Act of 2009 (Republic Act No. 9729), the Environmental Awareness Education Act (Republic Act No. 9512), the Clean Air Act (Republic Act No. 8749), the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act (Republic Act No. 10121) and the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act (Republic Act No. 11038), among others. In March 2017, the senator also successfully secured the Senate’s unanimous concurrence in the accession to the Paris Agreement, which demonstrated how she champions climate action, environmental protection, and sustainable development. 

Over the years, Senator Legarda has emerged as a game changer for Asia—advocating for sustainable living in harmony with nature by seeking the path for green growth and resilient development for nations. Working with world leaders, she has pushed for locally led adaptation measures to help save our home planet and protect all of humankind.

On 22 May 2024, during the International Biodiversity Day, the PENCAS law was signed by the President—adding another feather on the lady senator’s cap of accomplishments as the country’s foremost green legislator. PENCAS is seen as a much-needed legal biodiversity instrument for the Philippines to accelerate ecosystem management and restoration efforts, climate change mitigation and disaster resilience, and a more nature-positive economic progress.

The signing of the PENCAS is a bold move for the Philippines in just the right time for the rollout of the UN Global Biodiversity Plan programmes and activities. This year also marks the crafting of the ASEAN Biodiversity Plan—initiated by the 10 ASEAN Member States and facilitated by the ACB, which is expected to be finalised soon. The PENCAS Act will have a significant impact in advancing both the global and the ASEAN Biodiversity Plans. With proper implementation, the law will help align economic development with ecological sustainability thus, transforming national development that is supportive of species and habitat conservation.

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