Awarding Ceremonies for the Nationwide Search for the Best School Forest Park

January 10, 2013

Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
Awarding Ceremonies for the Nationwide Search for the
Best School Forest Park

Bulwagan ng Karunungan, DepEd Complex
January 10, 2013

The Philippines, as an archipelago, is vulnerable to the dangerous consequences of climate change. In the last decade we have seen in increasing frequency, prolonged drought, storms, and severe floods. Still raw in our memory is the typhoon that befell Mindanao last year, where massive recovery and rehabilitation efforts still need to be done.

Large areas of forestlands all over the country have been converted to mining and marginal upland agriculture. Based on the 2001-2003 satellite imageries of the Forestry Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the current total forest cover of the Philippines is estimated at 7.168 million hectares or only 24.27 percent of the country’s total land area.[1]

Still, studies have shown that some 887 square kilometers of forest area are denuded annually. And according to the World Bank, the Philippines’ reforestation efforts had for a time been inconsistent with minimal tree survival rates. The increasing demands of urbanization have led to environmental transgressions such as illegal logging and intentional forest fires.[2]

All these considered, reforestation must be a continuous effort in response to climate change. Local greening programs must aim to build and maintain forest parks at the provincial, city, municipal, and barangay level; and along road sides, to develop public open spaces where appropriate, and most especially where the young can appreciate them every day: in our school grounds.

I laud the efforts of the Department of Education, together with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture, in creating awareness among youth of the value of tree-growing. The compelling need to teach our youth the real benefits of environmental protection cannot be over-emphasized.

The “Best School Forest Park” program is a very good opportunity to engage a young audience in environmental protection. Trees are essential and crucial to our survival, especially during these times when flood, drought and pollution have alternately caused harm and danger to our communities. With education, therefore, we aim to ensure that our remaining forests are not destroyed and the damaged ones are rehabilitated.

Taking full advantage of this chance to educate our schoolchildren nationwide on the importance of trees, we also hope to inculcate in them a lifelong love for our environment.

I thank every school that joined this program, and every student that participated in making our schools greener and healthier. While we will award those who have been judged as the best under the set criteria, keep in mind that every school is already a winner because every school has contributed to our fight for a better Philippines.

I would like to take this occasion to tell you about some of our legislative efforts for environmental conservation.

The Climate Change Act of 2009 gives a window of opportunity for us to respond to the challenges of climate change in a comprehensive manner. As the principal author and sponsor of the law, I set out to give more stakeholders and communities greater opportunity to initiate programs in their respective areas of responsibility that are aligned to the national and global goal of sustainable development.

I am also proud to be the co-author of the National Environmental Awareness and Education Act of 2008, which seeks to integrate environmental education in school curricula at all levels, whether public or private, including in barangay daycare, pre-school, non formal, technical vocational, professional level, indigenous learning and out-of-school youth programs.

Education is one of the other advocacies closest to my heart. It is because of this that I filed Senate Bill No. 10 which seeks to provide more benefits and greater protection to teachers and non-teaching personnel all over the country by strengthening and amending certain provisions of Republic Act No. 4670 or the Magna Carta for Public School Teachers.

This bill addresses that need by providing for security of tenure to teachers, payment of their salaries as well as those of non-teaching personnel on a monthly basis regardless of semestral or summer vacations, annual salary increase or adjustment to mitigate the effects of inflation, and other measures that will protect the rights and promote the welfare of our public school teachers. This bill also provides for gratuity benefit for teachers and non-teaching personnel who choose to retire before reaching the compulsory retirement age of 60 and have rendered not less than two (2) years service.

Beyond my work at the Senate, I hope that all of you will join us at Luntiang Pilipinas, the foundation I founded in 1998, which has planted two million trees in more than 500 hectares across the country.

It is an imperative for us to do everything in our power to protect the forests left for our children and for humanity. It is an uphill climb, but we must gather courage. We must pool together our knowledge, our skills, our commitment, and our passion.

Let me reiterate that forest protection, like environmental protection, is not its own end. As always, the strong environmental thrust of my advocacy is part of my larger plan and vision of eradicating poverty in the grassroots.

Taking care of our forests not only responds to climate change and other environmental concerns but also deals with persistent local poverty because forests are a vital part of rural development. I envision every part of the country, every nook and cranny, to be planted with trees so as to eventually restore the beauty of our forests and create new ones, even within our urban spaces.

I trust that you, educators and students alike, will be my staunch partners in achieving this lofty dream. Again I wish to thank the DepEd, as the DENR, the DA, and the BPI for their invaluable contributions to making this project possible.

Congratulations to all participants and winners, and may the DepEd’s Best School Forest Park program continue to lead us to milestones in both education and environmental conservation in the years to come.

Thank you.