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Greening of the Philippines: Issues and Concerns

November 17, 2009

9th Philippine Society for the Study of Nature
I think we all agree that after Ondoy and Pepeng, Filipinos are not the same anymore. The people are more than ever conscious of the impact of climate change. We all have our own stories from our families, if not from our own experience with Ondoy or Pepeng. The lesson is simple. If we do not do protect the environment, our lives will just get harder and harder as weather conditions get more erratic and more extreme.
We have seen what happened when the floods came. Communities that used to be impervious to floodwaters were inundated. Months after Ondoy and Pepeng, we still see the effects on the lakeshore municipalities of Laguna. Water is claiming the land that used to accommodate long-standing communities.
Let us examine what the government has done in the past.
From 2005 to 2009, little progress was made in controlling environmental and natural resource degradation despite comprehensive legal and regulatory regime for environmental and natural resources management and the use of some advanced strategies.
There are new environmental challenges that have emerged from new development directions pursued by the government such as its active promotion of mining, agribusiness and bio-fuels production.
There is also devolution of responsibilities to local governments, but without additional financial resources.
The public resources for conservation and protection is still very low.
Climate change has gained recognition in policy circles, although this interest has not yet been sufficiently translated into actions.
At present, an estimated 19% of the country’s land area remains forested. Deforestation has made many poor communities more vulnerable to natural calamities such as landslides.
Soil erosion has accelerated dramatically with an estimated loss of 50% of the fertile top layer in the last 10 years.
Excavation, dredging, and coastal conversion for coastal zone development damage the marine environment, especially to coral reefs, mangroves, and sea-grasses.
Only about 36% of the country’s river systems are classified as sources of public water supply.
The water resource concerns include recurring seasonal problem of access to clean water in many areas, water pollution, wasteful, inefficient water use, saltwater intrusion, pipe leaks, illegal connections, and continued denudation of forest cover in watersheds.
Agriculture encroachment into forestlands continues to threaten the stability of the whole forest ecosystem including the watershed areas.
While there are positive trends in efforts to curb illegal logging, provide better watershed and promote the use of renewable energy sources, these are offset by the pressure of overpopulation.
The Philippines has a 2.3% annual population growth rate and the projected total population is expected to reach 91 million. There is rapid urbanization and poor environmental governance and corruption.
There are likewise new challenges such as the promotion of bio-fuels and agribusiness and mining policies that may aggravate the condition of natural resources.
Because of overpopulation, the demand for water also rises. At least 30 million Filipinos have no access to potable water through water supply and distribution operations. Water demand nationwide is expected to grow from 43 million cubic meters per year in 2000 to 88 million cubic meters by 2025.
While programs and projects to make the Philippines more green are necessary, the work to mitigate, if not arrest climate change requires an all-encompassing effort.
We need to change our over-all ways. Many of our actions have been inappropriate and are doomed to failure because they are founded on the traditional notion that economic activities alone matter for development.
I have called for a new development thinking, a more holistic development philosophy. This kind of development is founded on sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, ecosystems protection, cultural resilience, and good governance, all of which must be adopted by world leaders in order to address growing disaster risks.
The Climate Change Act of 2009, a bill that I have authored in the Senate, is one of laws that are cognizant of the need to come up with new adaptation needs and strategies across various sectors and themes.
This law ensures the mainstreaming of climate change in various phases of policy formulation, development plans, poverty reduction strategies and other development tools and techniques by all government agencies.
It provides a Climate Change Commission with the President as the chairperson, three Commissioners who are experts in climate change by virtue of their training and experience.
There is also an advisory board, the Secretaries of different government agencies, the President of the League of Cities, Municipalities and Barangay, and representatives from the academe, business sector, non-governmental organizations and civil society.
The commission will ensure the mainstreaming of climate change in synergy with disaster risk reduction into the national, sectoral and local development plans and programs.
The Philippine Strategic Framework on Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) and the Philippine Climate Change Adaptation Action Agenda will serve as the basis for the program for climate change planning, research and development, extension and monitoring of activities on climate change.
In line with the framework and action agenda, each local government unit shall formulate its own local climate change action plan.
Local government units will be in the frontline in the formulation, planning and implementation of climate change action plans in their respective areas.
Meanwhile, the national government shall extend technical and financial assistance to local government units for the accomplishment of their climate change action plans. They can also appropriate and use their funds from their Internal Revenue Allotment to implement their local plans.
I would like to mention another one of my proposals in the Senate. This is the Disaster Risk Reduction, Management, and Recovery Bill, which was recently passed in the Senate on third reading.
The bill seeks to formulate a comprehensive all-hazards, multi-sectoral, inter-agency, and community-based approach to disaster risk reduction, management and recovery through the formulation of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management and Recovery Framework.
The sad reality is that Climate change will continue to put additional stress on already heavily stressed watersheds, which in turn will affect downstream and coastal areas.
As the environment is exacerbated by population growth, poverty, weak policies, deforestation, urbanization and industrialization, we can expect to experience more extreme weather events, temperature rise, and excessive rainfall.
Climate change may also exacerbate water pollution and water stress due to increasing demand from population growth and economic development.
Moreover, risks on sea level rise and saltwater intrusion to groundwater may increase significantly.
What else must be done? We need policy changes in the allocation of resources, food production, livelihoods, and land use.
There is a need to clarify rules governing roles of various stakeholders in the water sector.
Decentralization and building capacity of local agencies must be supported. Watershed related research and technology development must be prioritized.
Water use efficiency must be enhanced by improving technologies and crop varieties, reducing of transmission losses thru regular maintenance of system, monitoring and auditing of irrigation systems performance, and improving water pricing and cost recovery.
For demand management, public education programs, recycling, and economic valuation of water must be implemented.
Planning and decision making must be improved through enhancing data collection and management, gathering of more aggressive information, technology generation, mainstreaming of water resource conservation in the national and local development planning, and formulating watershed-based local development planning.
Through watershed-based local development planning, the interlinked concerns on climate change, poverty, biodiversity, and water may be addressed.
Clearly, the work to stop climate change does not end in policy. We must practice what we preach. There is the constant need to follow through in implementation.
As early as 1998, I have established Luntiang Pilipinas as a nationwide urban forestry program, to promote public awareness on various environmental issues and to enjoin multi-sectoral participation in helping address such concerns.
Ten years after, Luntiang Pilipinas remains committed in doing its share in saving the environment, with the launch of 10@10: The 10 Million Trees Campaign.
The latest project is an online campaign to plant 10 million trees to encourage the “valuable contribution of individuals, private corporations and businesses, and national and local government agencies in planting 10 million trees by year 2011.
Those who want to participate can enter pledges to plant as many trees as they can online through www.luntiangpilipinas.com.ph.
Those who made pledges must actually plant the trees. Those who were responsible for the actual tree planting at their chosen locations are encouraged to send in photos or videos to document their activities.
Registered pledges are acknowledged in the form of a ‘pledge of commitment card’ to be issued in the participant’s name.
These pledge cards also serve as discount cards in selected establishments, courtesy of Luntiang Pilipinas merchant partners.
Let me tell you a story about how a grandson spent in just ten days what took his grandfather 82 years to accumulate, to show how we, as a people, intend to destroy what took billions of years to form, unless we change our mindset and undertake a paradigm shift on the environment.
A grandfather died intestate and left his only grandson 100 million pesos as inheritance.
Prior to his death, he told his grandson to spend only the income of his inheritance and preserve the capital of P100 million.
However, contrary to his grandfather’s wishes, the grandson gambled and spent 10 million a day on losses. Thus, by the end of the tenth day, the whole inheritance was gone.
But instead of treating this as a loss, the grandson asked that the money he spent for gambling be reported by his accountant as losses that are allowable deductions on his gross income.
This story demonstrates how we treat the environment. The Earth has taken 4.5 billion years to put together; Man, 1 million years, and Civilization, 6,000-7,000 years.
Ladies and gentlemen, the state of the Philippine environment has deteriorated from a gloomy silent spring into the next stage, an apocalyptic one. All around us we are witnessing the birth of death, the refusal of life forms to flourish and to thrive, the black curtains that hang over former enclaves of bio-diversity.
Only after the last tree has been felled, the last river poisoned, and the last fish caught, will man know that he cannot eat money.
We have to reverse the onslaught to life, to usher in an environmental springtime, the surge of new life forms, the explosion of forested mountains, clean air, clear rivers and bountiful seas.
Let it be said that in our time and during our watch, while gifted with intelligence and insight, with privilege and position, with the wealth of wisdom, and with the freedom and power of the human will, let it be said that we did our share.
And maybe, just maybe, we will make a little difference.
Thank you very much and good afternoon.