P2.6B for reforestation in Bukidnon and Lanao; P50-M for pilot ‘rainforestation’ project

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/05 June) –  The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will download P2.6 billion for reforestation of Bukidnon and Lanao, Environment Undersecretary Demetrio Ignacio announced at the end of the two-day Mindanao Economic and Environment Summit Tuesday.

Minutes earlier, Secretary Luwalhati Antonino, chair of the Mindanao Developmetn Authority (MinDA),  announced the DENR would provide P50-M for a pilot ‘rainforestation’ project in some towns in Mindanao, designed to ensure its success.

She said one of the reasons why tree planting is not so successful among local government units is that the trees are not easily visible and are therefore “not in aid of re-election.”

Ignacio acknowledged that many are skeptical about reforestation programs “because of our excellent track record of failure.”

He said Environment Secretary Ramon Paje has written the Commission on Audit, asking it to conduct an annual special audit of the program with the Development Academy of the Philippines as third party monitor.

The undersecretary stressed good governance is a major factor in reforestation.

He said 90 million trees were planted last year under the National Greening Program (NGP). “We surpassed our target.” (The NGP’s target under the first year is actually 100 million, according to the NGP section of the DENR website).

Ignacio said of  this number, 15 million were planted in Mindanao  which he described as having the worst forest degradation “than any other place in the country.”

He said 66% of Mindanao’s forest cover is gone. Antonino in her opening remarks on Monday said Mindanao’s forests were estimated at about 23%  in 2003.

Ignacio said the P2.6 billion allocation for Bukidnon and Lanao will come from the P6.6 billion reforestation project funded by the Asian Development Bank.

Aside from this, Ignaco announced the DENR would also turn over to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) this month “over half a billion pesos” for reforestation, forest boundary delineation and cadastral survey para matulungan sila, especially sa Lanao area.”

“They lie there and die there”

Antonino, who spoke ahead of Ignacio at the closing rites of the Summit, said she had earlier discussed with Paje the problems confronting reforestation and her proposal to pilot a “rainforestation” program. She said she visited a “man-made rainforest” in Bukidnon and believes it can be replicated elsewhere.

She said she told Secretary Paje that the P40,000 per hectare allocation under the NGP is “not sustainable.”

“Kasi pagbalik mo doon, walang mangyayari eh. Tama ba yang P40,000 per hectare tapos pagkatapos non, eh they just lie there and they die there?” (Because when you return to the area planted, nothing happens.  Is it right to spend P40,000 per hectare and after that, [the seedlings] just lie there and they die there?)

She shared with Paje the issues raised by the mayors that tree planting  does not aid re-election.

She said mayors told her, “Ma’am, kanang tree planting dili man na makit-an sa katawhan so dili kana politically right, dili in aid of reelection kay dili man gud makit-an” (Ma’am, tree planting is not so visible to the people so that is not politically right, it is not in aid of reelection).

Antonino said she understands this because she was a politician before her appointment as MinDA chair (she was a representative of General Santos City and the 1st district of South Cotabato for several years).

Local government officials and congressional representatives have a term of three years each.  Three year-old trees, even if planted along the highways are not as visible as waiting sheds with politicians’ names painted on them.

Antonino departed from her prepared speech at the opening of the Summit on Monday to add a challenge to the public. “Incidentally, election is nearing. We can ask those candidates, ‘what are you doing for our watersheds not what you have done in terms of waiting sheds with your names on it.”

On Tuesday, she said there could be a way of designing a “rainforestation”  program to ensure its success. She said the DENR could provide the materials for planting and the local government units will do the planting and more importantly, the guarding.

She said local government units can pay from the local government’s coffers, their own people, their voters, to guard the areas planted.

“Kana (that is) politically right,” she said.

Antonino said Paje agreed to the proposal for a pilot “rainforestation” program.

She did not say how many towns would be part of the pilot program but said these would be in the watershed areas.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)