Forest health gets boost from troops, envi exec says

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 28 July) – The military and the police have been helping boost the efforts to enhance and protect forest cover in Soccsksargen (Region 12), which has been allegedly hampered by security threats posed by the communist New People’s Army (NPA), a top environment official here said.

Volunteers plant trees near the peak of Mt. Apo in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato. MindaNews file photo by BOBBY TIMONERA

Felix Alicer, Department of Environment and Natural Resources-12 (DENR-12) director, said the agency has tapped the military and the police to help improve the health of the forests in the region through the National Greening Program (NGP).

“We have a convergence with the military and the police for the protection of our forests because DENR cannot do it on its own,” he said in a recent press conference here.

For this year, Alicer said the NGP is focused in North Cotabato after the regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (ELCAC) declared it as a priority area in the fight against communist insurgency.

ELCAC was created by virtue of Executive Order 70 issued by President Rodrigo Duterte in December 2018 that employs the “whole-of-nation approach” to defeat the communist insurgency.

Alicer said the greening program seeks to plant trees in at least 815 hectares (ha) in North Cotabato this year that will provide a source of livelihood for the communities.

The NGP, a banner program of the national government spearheaded by the DENR, aims to plant 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million ha of public domain lands across the country from 2011 to 2028, mainly following a community-based approach.

In November 2015, the NGP was enhanced (eNGP) through Executive Order 193, which seeks to rehabilitate all the remaining unproductive, denuded and degraded forestlands estimated at 7.1 million ha from 2016 to 2028, a project briefer posted at the DENR website said

Mama Samaon, DENR-12 technical services chief, said the forest cover in Region 12 straddles only four percent or 273,600 hectares (ha) of the country’s total of 6.84 million (ha).

According to him, the forest cover in the region “grew by five to 10 percent from five years ago,” apparently referring to the impact of the NGP.

“We have seen forest trees growing in our forest lands in the last five to 10 years,” Samaon said in the same press conference.

He said that at least 996,000 ha of forest lands straddles Region 12, which covers the provinces of South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani.

Alicer, a lawyer, cited the need to enhance the survival rate of trees under the eNGP to boost the forest cover in the region.

“We are not satisfied with the rate of survival of trees planted under the NGP program,” he said.

Across Region 12, Alicer said that 129,000 ha of land have been planted with various tree species since the NGP was rolled out in 2011.

Alicer said the DENR-12 is currently maintaining at least 8,000 ha of tree plantations under the eNGP program across the region.

He said the government is allocating P5,000 to maintain each hectare of land under the greening program. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)