Genuine growth

As Filipinos hang up their brand-new calendars, they also engage in the yearly tradition of making New Year resolutions. Amid the usual and banal promises, an excellent and helpful one is being proposed: Plant a tree.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje points out—and who is to disagree with him?—that tree-planting is “not only a rewarding experience but also a great step toward improving and protecting our environment.” More importantly, he says, it is “the perfect way of giving back what we have extracted from Mother Earth.”

Tree-planting as a New Year resolution goes perfectly with an idea that the administration of President Aquino has been pushing since 2011, when terrible floods triggered by storms washed away entire settlements in parts of the Visayas and Mindanao. The President issued Executive Order No. 23 officially declaring “a moratorium on the cutting and harvesting of timber in the natural and residual forests” and creating “the anti-illegal logging task force.” The order effectively barred the Department of Environment and Natural Resources from issuing and renewing any logging permits in the forests. It also created the ambitious National Greening Program (NGP).

States EO 23: “[It] is the obligation of the State to protect the remaining forest cover areas of the country not only to prevent flash floods and hazardous flooding but also to preserve biodiversity … and allow natural regeneration of residual forests and development of plantation forests.” The order has resulted in the banning of logging equipment in forests, the padlocking of erring firms, the firing of ineffective DENR officials, and the seizing of millions of pesos worth of “hot logs.”

Still, some continue to defy EO 23. In 2012, the President underscored his resolve in enforcing the log ban. “It has reached my attention that there are still those who apparently don’t believe that we are serious in imposing the ban,” he said last June. “People who have cohorts among members of the government continue logging activities. We are directly being challenged, and I accept the dare.”

That challenge has been highlighted by the massive loss of life and property in recent landslides and floods resulting from forest denudation. The destruction wrought by Typhoon “Pablo” was greatly amplified by the effects of indiscriminate cutting of trees in illegal logging hot spots, such as Compostela Valley. “This [devastation] is now proving that a total log ban is right,” Paje was quoted as saying in the wake of Pablo’s rampage in eastern Mindanao. “Several quarters are criticizing the declaration of a total log ban, but look at what happened. It is now proving that we really must stop timber harvesting, especially in our natural forests.”

And it is urgent that reforestation efforts be given ample support. Dedicated environmentalists have campaigned endlessly to renew the once-abundant forests that made up our natural wealth. The Haribon Foundation, long a proponent of aggressive tree-planting, continues its good work. In Pablo’s wake, cooperatives in Mindanao launched their own campaign, planting some 6,000 seedlings last Dec. 10 alone. Of course, it falls on the NGP to cover more ground.

Described by the President as “the most expansive program in our country’s history,” the NGP aims to plant trees on some 1.5 million hectares starting now up to the year 2016. The DENR is off to a good start, having already planted millions of seedlings in over 232,000 hectares nationwide. Mr. Aquino has promised that his 6-year administration would meet a reforestation target that took the DENR 25 years to meet. It now behooves him to make sure that promise is fulfilled.

And each one of us can help in this worthy task. Planting a tree is one big step toward saving the country and the next generations; it is an act that literally and meaningfully benefits those who will inherit the earth after us. Each tree planted is both symbol and proof of genuine growth.

“One does not have to be part of the government or an environmental group to make a positive impact on his surroundings,” Paje reminds the public. “Filipinos from all walks of life are encouraged to do their part to sustain the environment by planting trees.” It is a good idea that should grow strong roots in 2013 and thereafter.

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