Where are the trees?


    THE National Greening Program (NGP) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has a budget this year of P2.6 billion. The Department has decided to request Congress for double that amount – P5.15 billion for year 2020.

    It is good that the national appropriations bill passes the House of Representatives and the Senate. The budget deliberations at the Upper Chamber on the DENR allocation became an opportunity for Sen. Ralph Recto to ask: Where are the trees?

    In year 2011, then President Benigno Aquino III issued Executive Order 26 which authorized the implementation of the National Greening Program. Its aims are to reduce poverty, ensure food security, conserve biodiversity, and enhance climate change mitigation and adaptation.

    Under the program, 1.5 billion seedlings would be planted in 1.5 million hectares of public lands nationwide in six years, until 2016. In 2015, Aquino signed another Executive Order, No. 193, or the Enhanced National Greening Program, to rehabilitate all the remaining unproductive, denuded and degraded forest lands estimated at 7.1 million hectares from 2016 to 2028.

    Sen. Recto surmised that with the P38.9 billion given to the National Greening Program from 2011 to 2019 or a period of nine years, the DENR should have planted more than 1.8 billion trees in 2.1 million hectares of land. But the records showed that from 2011 to 2018, the government has so far planted some 1.6 billion trees in 1.9 million hectares.

    Another anomalous item in this NGP is the mortality rate of 62 percent for the trees planted. Why this high? Are our forestry experts in the DENR so inept and inefficient that they cannot take good care of the trees planted? Or is graft and corruption again present in this venture so that records are “doctored” to show that a certain number of trees were planted and another number survived? The senator said the department should also be able to report the reason for the low survival rate of the seedling.

    Recto is adamant and unyielding. He wanted to see the trees before backing NGP’s bid for a 100% increase in its budget. He said, “After counting the number of trees planted, it is time for the DENR to show us the forest. The carpet of green from sea to shining sea.

    Ilabas na ang NGP map. The proof of the planting is in the photos. Ipakita sa aerial maps, before and after photos, ang resulta ng isang P38.9 billion project.”

    Sen. Recto wants the DENR to show us the actual greenery, not just the forest of newsprint reports and vouchers of spending on the National Greening Program. He hit the nail on the head, using even brash language and irreverent in a most sarcastic way.

    We need more Senator Rectos to do the task of congressional oversight of the projects of the Executive Department.


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