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An environment agency without environmentalists

12:49 AM July 25, 2016

HIS CLAIMS to the contrary, Ramon Jesus Paje will go down in history as the environment secretary who had the most chance to make an impact on forest buildup in this country but squandered it. The National Greening Program (NGP), which is touted as the banner environment program of the previous Aquino administration, got a huge P7-billion allocation but has nothing much to show for it.

Last year, in reaction to the Commission on Audit’s findings that the NGP is a failure, Paje claimed that, on the contrary, the greening activity has been a success, saying that the survival rate of the planted seedlings was 80 percent nationwide. He was either naive or deliberately misleading the public.

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To begin with, Paje’s survival-rate figure comes from the Forest Management Bureau, an arm of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The department’s reliance on an in-house monitoring and validating team, instead of on an independent and objective watchdog, has been and continues to be one of the fundamental flaws of government greening programs; it is responsible for the illusion of success. The fact is there are but a few growing trees in the plantations.

To bring home the point, I have personally been to two NGP sites where not even 10 percent of the seedlings have survived, but which the DENR records as having 90 plus-percent survival rates.

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If Paje has a problem with that, I am daring him to stick his name to his 80-percent-survival-rate claim by executing a promissory note that if an honest to goodness counting of the trees/seedlings in the plantations will reveal a significantly lower figure, he will be personally held liable for the deficit.

I must point out that the absence of a mechanism to exact accountability for the failed government regreening programs stems from a crucial mistake. With one failed program after another and the accountable DENR people getting nary a rap on the knuckles from the past administrations, the tradition of failure continues. Meanwhile, the country’s mountains remain bare; and, yes, with the loss of the funds and the precious growing time of trees, the vulnerability of the nation to climate change grows by the day.

But what really dooms the government’s greening program right from conception is the fact that up to now DENR people, from the secretaries down to ordinary employees, do not consider the success of greening programs a matter of personal and professional urgency, or a matter of honor and achievement, to merit their passion and dedication. All we have in the department is a caboodle mechanically coping with targets of seedlings disposed of and areas planted, period. People who do not know the joy of developing forests through their own loving contributions. In other words, we have an environmental agency bereft of environmentalists, so what else can we expect?

—ESTANISLAO C. ALBANO JR., [email protected]

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TAGS: DENR, environment, environmentalist, letter, Letter to the Editor, National Greening Program, NGP, Ramon Jesus Paje
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