State of the Philippine Environment – Hon. Ramon J.P. Paje
Good morning! This is still the most important conference of the week because we are talking about our own future – Mother Earth.
Conferences like this are important. This can be a venue for the DENR Secretary to account for what he has done or has not done. What government has implemented or has not implemented. Everybody would be able to participate. That is why I will propose to institutionalize this, and make this yearly. As I said yesterday, environment is one of the concerns that require the participation of everyone. Environmental protection is not the monopoly of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. It is the responsibility of all the citizens of this country. So on that note, I will give you the true state of the environment of the Republic of the Philippines.
What we will report will be no frills. It will simply deal with facts and figures. Verifiable. We have summarized the state of the environment of this Republic from 2010 to present – where we were, what have we done, where are we now. No frills, only facts and figures.
Let me begin by stating to you the mandate of the Department. As summarized in the Philippine Medium Term Development Plan, our department has three (3) major concerns:
1. Protecting and preserving the natural wealth of our country
2. Improving the quality of our environment
3. Enhancing the resiliency of communities. This is what this administration added because of the disasters we experience every year.
These mandates are achieved through various programs which we implemented from 2010-2016: Forest Protection / Total Logging Ban, the National Greening Program, Protected Areas and Biodiversity Management, Clean Air Clean Water and Solid Waste Management Programs, Cadastral Survey and Land Management, Mining Regulation, Geo-hazard Assessment and Mapping, Ecosystem Research and Good Governance.
So, where were we? Where are we now? As I’ve said, we will deal only with facts
Forest Protection and Total Logging Ban
Data was there even before 1960s when the department was still called Ministry of Natural Resources. In 1976, we were cutting close to 3.6 million trees every year. It was the boom of export of timber. We were exporting to Japan, USA, Korea, and Singapore. Other parts of the world were benefitting from the natural wealth of our country.
We averaged the total number of trees cut from natural forests from 1960 – 2010. We were cutting 1,748,682 million trees/year. That means this country has been decimating 1.7 million trees /year. That is why we now have an almost decimated natural forest with around 7-8 million remaining out of almost 28 million hectares during the Spanish period. We are trying to increase this through the National Greening Program.
When we declared total log ban in 2011, the average number of trees cut from the natural forests went down to 1,896 trees. Most of these are for transmission lines. When transmission lines pass through forests we have to cut the trees. At present, I’m still approving it because it is needed in order to provide electricity. However, we have been discussing this issue with those in the national grid, and hopefully they will agree with me. This is still being discussed. We will allow them to cut the footprint and trim the tree. Worse scenario, we will allow them to cut what we call in technical term the “sagging” – the sagging part of the tree. Using that agreement we will be saving millions of trees in the future.
We are saving about 1,595,826 million trees per year, simply because of one policy
– the total log ban policy. This is the benefit that the future generations will enjoy. Our children and their children will enjoy the benefits of this policy except if the new administration changes this and will allow logging again.
I talked to Cardinal Rosales yesterday, to ask the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to help us ask Congress to pass a law on this because as of now, it is still an Executive Order, simply a Presidential Order. What we want is that it becomes a law enshrined in the Philippine Constitution so that it becomes final. Hopefully, with your help and Cardinal Rosales’ promise, we will get it in the next Congress.
What stopped logging was simply one order. After President Aquino issued Executive Order # 23, I, together with Jesse Robredo and with others, signed this order. If we do not have bulldozers, tractors, chain saws, there will be no massive tree cutting. Currently there is still carabao logging. But imagine how many trees can a bulldozer harvest in a day? Hundreds of thousands in a day compared to one carabao that can remove 2-3 trees a day. When 2-3 trees are removed from a million of trees in a forest, the forest can regenerate. However, if 1.7 million are removed, even if the forest has the capacity to regenerate, the forest cannot cope. That is why the forest is over stressed. It is decimated. But two, or three, or even a hundred? The forest can regenerate.
This is the most effective order. Logging equipment in the forest is automatically confiscated in favor of the state. A 6×6 truck worth Php2 M with almost 200,000 logs can be confiscated and becomes the property of the state. As of now, we have confiscated
more than 400 trucks. We gave them out to the local government, Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) for its automotive course. We have confiscated more than 400 trucks; however, this resolution is not easy to implement. We have also lost our men. A lot of our employees died because of this program.
When we took over in 2010, 197 illegal logging hotspots were identified. As of April 2015, we had reduced the number of hotspots to 23, or only 12 percent of the 2010 level. We aim to reduce the remaining 23 hotspots to zero in the next few months.
The question is, why can’t we stop it? Why do we still have 23? The entire countries in Asean except maybe for Singapore, also experience illegal logging due to poverty.
These are cases in Caraga – Agusan and Surigao areas. They are poverty related incidences. In these areas, the indigenous people (IP) believe that they own the forests. And, therefore, they can harvest at will. In fact, the IPRA (Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act) law says, that if the IP harvests, it should be allowed. It is in the law. That is a way of respecting the rights and culture of the indigenous people. But the problem somehow in this place, is that it is no longer harvested for their use. It is harvested for the lumber dealers’ use. That is why we also confiscate it. In these areas, it is so easy to do illegal logging. They bring the logs to Agusan River, which is so wide. After an hour, the logs are in the mouth of Butuan Bay. Until we solve the poverty issue in the uplands, unless we attain inclusive growth development, it will be very difficult to solve this problem because it is poverty related.
The upland farmers are considered the poorest of the poor. A lot of the members of the upland farmer’s associations are also beneficiaries of the Conditional Cash Transfer program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Bantay Gubat was a program we started; but it failed. In 2011, we successfully put a budget of Php300M in the Appropriations Act of 2012. It was to be used to transform the Red Army – the 5,400 or so members of the National People’s Army (NPA)- into a Green Army. They were to be converted into forest guards. Unfortunately, the negotiations in Oslo did not succeed. Our plans did not materialize. It would have been an effective program. We would compensate them. They do not have to lay down their arms. They will no longer fight government but will fight illegal loggers instead. However, the negotiations failed miserably. We were not able to use the money as salary. At present, we have our own Bantay Gubat.
The beautiful verdant forests in Sierra Madre and Palawan are because of the Bantay Gubat program. By the way, there will be no coal-fired power plant in Palawan during my term. I join Secretary Naide Monsada to inform you that there will be none. At the very least, I promise that I will not sign any Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) for a coal-fired power plant in Palawan.
National Greening Program
The objective of the National Greening Program (NGP) is to plant 1.5 billion seedlings in 1.5 million hectares of land for a period of six years, from 2011- 2016. Are we succeeding? Or are we failing? The answer is yes and no. I personally conceptualized this program. I thought I’d do it because at that time I thought this country could produce 1 million seedlings per day. Unfortunately, we are only going to realize that starting this year. We have a mechanized nursery that is just being put up. This facility can produce
that many. Unfortunately they were not available in 2012-2013. We instead used fewer seedlings in planting a hectare rationalized by the required spacing. If a spacing of 2m x 3m is used to plant in a forest, 2,500 seedlings are used per hectare. If the spacing is 3m x 3m, the seedlings become 1,111. For 4m x 5m, it becomes 500. A spacing of 10m x 10m, needs 100 seedlings. The spacing is dictated by the species. Mango, for example cannot be planted side by side. The spacing is 10m x 10m, so only a hundred seedlings are needed. Mahogany needs 2m x 3m, so 2,500 seedlings are used, sometimes 3m x 3m, using 1,111 seedlings. So, we averaged the needed seedlings in a hectare. The average we are using is 1,000 seedlings per hectare.
This is a small plantation, less than 50 hectares of land. The photo on the left is the picture before reforestation. The one on the right was taken just recently. This area on the left side is almost zero value. The photo on the right can be valued for Php 200,000/ha especially if it is planted with cacao and coffee plantations.
I made this statement in the Cabinet that is why we have this program. My position during that time in 2011 was, we have 8M hectares of open, denuded land. In Malaysia, coffee, cacao, and timber will generate Php300,000 per hectare. If fact, some can generate Php500,000/ha. In the Philippines, the grassland will generate nothing – zero!
If the 8M hectares of denuded and degraded land are made productive, with crops amounting to Php100,000/hectare, coffee is around Php175,000, Php800B will be raised. Php100,000 multiplied by 8M, is Php800B. That means this country is losing Php800B because we are not using our land properly! In economics, land is the number one capital. In the Philippines, we are just wasting it. Go to Japan, there is no land that is not used. Go to Malaysia, they have plantations. In the Philippines, we have grasslands. Sad! But this program can change it. Imagine, Php800B a year! If that opportunity is given to the upland farmers, all the upland farmers will become millionaires, simply by making the land productive.
From 1960- 2010, the government hardly planted anything. It was only sometime in 1989 – 1991, that trees were planted, something like 150,000 hectares with money from Asian Development Bank. This was the time during President Cory Aquino. But since 2011-2015, we have planted close to 340,000 hectares per year.
We have also generated close to 4M jobs. EO 26 was not crafted as an environmental program but as a poverty reduction program and a food security program. Anyway, it will surely derive environmental benefits. The trees will give oxygen. It will prevent soil erosion, and will still help in climate change mitigation. Environmental benefits will still be achieved. So, we made it as a poverty reduction program, but still achieve environmental benefits.
Ultimately, this is our objective. There were 8.9 M ha of denuded land when we started in 2010. That is our baseline. The vegetated forestland was 6.8 M. When we planted, the vegetated forestland increased and the denuded land decreased. In 2014, we targeted for the reversal of this situation; however, we were delayed a bit. We were only able to reach our target last 2015. Hopefully in 2016, there will be more vegetated areas than denuded. And if we continue the program, hopefully all of these will become vegetated again. We will be able to regain our forest cover.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, reported in 2015, that the Philippines is number 5 in the whole world to have forest gain for the period 2010- 2015. 5th in the world, number 1 in Southeast Asia and number 2 in Asia because China is still number 1.
These were planted in 2010 – 2012. These are less than 3 years old. In the Philippines trees can be harvested in 10 years. In Europe, the tree cannot be harvested that fast because the growth increment of trees is ½ a centimeter/year. In Mindanao, the growth rate of timber is 4 cm /year. This is because the Philippines is endowed with 365 days of rainfall, and 365 days of sunshine. In temperate America, it takes100 years to harvest timber.
These are the cacao plantations in Davao. Cacao is one of the most expensive commodities. The price for dried beans is Php127,000/ton. This is the price for dried beans, not the chocolate yet.
These are some of the mangroves that we’ve planted. These pictures are geotagged pictures. It is a requirement of the Commission on Audit (COA) and Department of Budget Management (DBM) that when we take the picture, it must be geotagged. The camera has the elevation, the time it was taken, and the coordinates. Anyone who wants to see it can bring the picture, go there and will see it.
Are all our plantations successful? No. We also have several that are not as nice. But all of those that you’ve seen in these pictures came from those areas that were not as successful. The farmers sign a 3-year contract with us. On the 1st year they plant, the 2nd year they replant and on the 3rd year they plant and continue planting. They replant new seedlings because it is our policy that they only count those that survive. We do not count the seedlings that died. We pay the farmers only if they’ve reached 80% of their contract. So, if seedlings die on the 1st year, there is still the 2nd year. At no cost to government, the farmer will replant it.
The new policy in the new NGP is that whatever they planted, we give to them. In the past, whatever they plant, they turn it over to the state after 3 years. Some of the farmers burn it, so that they are hired again. Now, the farmers will shoot down whoever burns their plantation. Some areas in Mindanao that were planted in 2011 are for harvesting – rubber, coffee, cacao, etc. The farmers own it. They cannot own the land, but they own the crops. The tweaking of the policy made the difference. I believe this policy made this program very successful. The farmers own what they planted.
Protected Areas and Biodiversity
We have declared 8 Asean Heritage Parks. In the past, from 1984 to 2009, only 3 were declared as Heritage Parks. From 2010 – 2015, we have declared 5.
In order to protect caves, they have to be documented. None were classified until 2009. However, from 2010 – 2015, I have signed the order for 415 caves. So, as of today, we have 415 caves classified.
We have to be clear with critical habitats. This is serious for us. There have been a lot of discussions within the department as to whether we should declare as critical habitat those within protected areas. I said, “We should.” In the past, only 1 was declared. We have signed 6 already for a total of 7 critical habitats and still growing.
The success of the tamaraw conservation program should be credited to the small towns that have been protecting the tamaraws. We are happy to report that the sighting is increasing. The tamaraw is an indicator species. If the habitat is threatened, species are listed as endangered. We are happy that the tamaraw is increasing.
Even the sighting of Philippine Eagles is increasing.
By the way, we have not completely explored our forests. If we did, we would find more species. But in looking for it, we have to invest.
Clean Air, Water and Solid Waste Management
When we took over in 2010, the total suspended particulates (TSP) was 166 ug/Ncm. We have reduced TSP by 39% from its 2010 level. We have lowered PM10 by 35% from 2011 level. However, unless we solve the traffic problem, we will not be able to meet the standard of 90 ug/Ncm.
We have already implemented Euro 4. This is a 3 – year fight with the oil companies. They have agreed to use Euro 4 and not Euro 2. The gasoline stations give out Euro 4 gasoline. What is the difference between Euro 2 and Euro 4? In Euro 2, sulfur is 500ppm, in Euro 4 it is only 50 ppm, one thousand percent difference. Benzene content is 5%, in Euro 4 it’s 1%. So, vehicles have cleaner emissions. The source of smog is actually sulfur. So, if you lower sulfur concentration, you lower smog. With Euro 4, we can have this trajectory.
One of our successful programs is the Adopt-an-Estero Program. But we are not making a dent. This program is not done by us; it is done by adopters of rivers, lakes, or esteros. Most of these 569 companies adopted 346 water bodies. They are cleaning the sections that they have adopted.
However, garbage was just taken out. If they let go of the project, the garbage will return. In the Philippines, this can be cured by discipline. Not by cleaning up, but by discipline. We have to change the psych of the people to change this.
We say the program is successful because it raised the awareness of corporations and companies. There is now heightened consciousness among corporations on this issue.
The Clean Water Act mandates the creation of Water Quality Management Areas (WQMAs). It requires the formation of Water Quality Management Boards. Before, there were only 4 in 2004-2010, in 2011-2015, we created 17.
If people look at this graph, they would think that the program is successful; however accomplishment in this program is dismal. The Ecological Solid Waste Management Act was signed in 2001. All dumpsites should have been closed in 2004. And all controlled dumpsites should have been closed in 2006. It’s now 2016, there are still close to 600 open and controlled dumpsites. That is the reason why Sen. Lauren Legarda, Usec. Briones and the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) are all in the Ombudsman preparing to file cases against local government units. The Ombudsman took over. Masama lang ang timing dahil election. But they should do it. After 15 years of implementing the law, close to 1/3 of the local government units are still violating the law. All of these should have been closed already sometime in 2004-2006.
Cadastral Survey and Land Management
The law for cadastral survey was signed in Feb 11, 1913. This is the longest running program of the Republic of the Philippines. It’s a 102 – year old program. By 2009 only 46% was finished after 97 years. 54% was left for us to work on. Humility aside, this is now a completed project. People can now be assured that their title is not fake. Land titles will no longer conflict. The survey is finished, but the computerization is still in
progress. We had difficulty because some local officials did not like their lands surveyed especially in Mindanao. They shoot the surveyors there. But a new technology is now available. Surveys are done using laser. The 100 year program was finally completed in 5 years.
These are the computerized records. 27 million records have been computerized; however, it is only 15% of the entire universe.
In 2010, this was how our records looked like. It’s now cleaner and more organized.
Before there were no “No-Go” Zones. President Aquino declared 84% of this country as closed to mining. 84% of the country’s land area cannot be applied for mining tenements or even exploration. We have closed it under EO #79.
We have signed guidelines for small scale mining and we made sure there is no use of mercury.
This one is very important. I signed this last year. I required that all mining companies get ISO certification for environmental management systems (EMS) within a year. If they make a loan with the bank, the bank can demand to monitor their operations through the ISO certification. The objection is still serious. Currently, 1,606 mining applications have been denied and discarded from the list.
Geohazard Assessment and Mapping
This program is improving the resiliency of our country. We have improved the scale of our geohazard maps from 1:50,000 to 1:10,000. Our maps are now 25 times bigger and much clearer. Because of the improved resolution of maps, we can immediately determine where the landslide or the flooding will occur once the typhoon path is plotted over it – in which barangay, which sitio, which street and which canal. That is the importance of a geohazard map. Just like what we did for Yolanda, for example. We were able to predict the typhoon path, because they call it a very disciplined typhoon. We were able to predict where hazards will occur.
We also have the new technology called ultra-sighting the underground. The deep penetrating radar helps us see sinkholes. We were able to locate 1,700 sinkholes in Bohol alone.
We have a new piece of land. The Philippines has expanded, although most of these are still under the sea. We call it the Benham Rise. It is 1.13M hectares of land, bigger than Luzon. The equivalent of this land is Luzon plus Samar and Leyte. It’s a new piece of land owned by the Philippines. We found it. We claimed it. Our official claim was deposited in the United Nation’s last April 12, 2012. It is located in the Pacific Ocean, east of Luzon. There were no objections to our claim unlike in the West Philippine Sea where there are many claimants. Since there were no other claimants, the UN declared Benham Rise as belonging to the Philippines. Benham Rise will appear 2,000 years from now. Future generations will benefit from its rich natural resources.
We are now using high resolution technology for mapping. We know the Philippines is made up of 7,101 islands. Actually there are 400 islands more that we do not see. With the resolution, we can safely say that the Philippines is not 7,101 islands, but 7,500 plus islands. The National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) will tell you how to do it.
Ecosystems Research and Development
The Hi Q-Vam, a fungus associated with plant roots, acts like a fertilizer but it is fungus. It is applied to the plant only once in the lifetime of the plant or tree. It enhanced plant growth compared to seedlings where mycorrhiza was not applied. We are producing it in Los Banos.
This is the new, mechanized nursery. This equipment can produce 150,000 seedlings in one day. If we have 10 of these, we can generate 1.1M seedlings in one day. However, this will compete with hiring laborers. The Department of Labor will question us. But with this, we can reduce the cost of seedlings from Php12 to Php2. My objective is to give seedlings for free to anyone who wants to plant.
It wasn’t easy to implement the Good Governance Program. In fact, it was very painful. I’ve lost a lot of my friends, lost some of my classmates. They hate me up to now because of this program. As I’ve said, I lost a lot of friends.
We filed 1,638 cases. Before, there were no convictions. But now, 202 violators were convicted. Before, all the confiscations were turned in and sold. We decided not to sell them because if we sell them, maybe the loggers will just buy them again. So what we did was to convert them to chairs for students. The Department of Education (DepEd) has enjoyed close to 150,000 chairs that were given to them. There were also 389 buildings that we had repaired.
For illegal mining, we’ve filed 78 cases with only 2 convictions. We have computerized our filing system for illegal logging and wildlife cases. Our department also has the most number of CCTV cameras all over the country. In the central office alone, we have more than a hundred CCTV cameras. That is how we were able to remove all the fixers in the department. At present, no one wastes their time walking in the lobby. Even in the parking lot, we see and catch our employees. We have a hundred cameras in the central office and 1,322 cameras all over the country. If I ask my regional director for his present location and he says I’m in the office, I can easily verify if he’s there or not because I can see him from my cell phone. We have 1,300 web-based cameras.
I have dismissed 32 people in the department, suspended 58, 55 formally charged, and so many more undergoing investigations and more given show cause order. This is what I meant when I said, “It’s painful.” So painful! But don’t worry, in so many months I will end my term. But this is painful. As I’ve said, most of these are my friends; some of them are my classmates.
Sometimes, it is also rewarding. The Social Weather Survey (SWS) and Pulse Asia conducted surveys with questions on specific accomplishments of the government. In the SWS June 2014 survey, there were 17 concerns like tax collection, fighting crime, reconciliation with communist, providing jobs, fighting terrorism, fighting inflation, etc. The one that came out as #1 was protecting the environment with a net positive rating of 46. I promised you that we were going to show only facts and figures. Go and see it at the website of SWS. You will see it there.
In the 2015 Pulse Asia Survey, we are number 4. We’re happy because we started in 2010 with a negative rating. In here, we have +26. I believe we did not accomplish this on our own. Civil Society helped us. In fact, your vigilance helped us. With your continued vigilance, we will perform better. If you continue to criticize us, we will continue to perform better.
My way forward will only be 2. Because the way forward will be defined by the Summit and most of the Breakout Sessions, I only have 2. (1) Help us define the National Determined Contribution. We have submitted to the United Nations in Paris, the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC). In a year’s time, we are to convert it to the National Determined Contribution (NDC). It will no longer be intended.
This will be painful to all of us – for the power sector, for industry, for the waste, for the transport sector, even for the agriculture sector. But we have to define it. We have committed, we have to do it.
We are here right now, less than 100 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e). If we continue with business as usual, in 2030, we will be emitting 221 MtCO2e. Our promise is to reduce by 40% and be at 130 MTCO2e. By 2030, with funding and technology transfer, we expect to be at 66 MtCO2e. But this 70% reduction will entail efforts from me, from you, from every Filipino, every citizen in this country. We must help because we will be monitored. The United Nations will be looking at us. We say that we are one of the most vulnerable and therefore, most conscious. This is what we want to see. But I tell you, this is 70% from business as usual. Forestry will reduce our carbon emission tremendously. We have to plant more trees so we can sequester more carbon dioxide. We have to expand our forests, so we can increase our sequestration capacity. As of now, we have 40% sequestration capacity because of our forests. That is the reason. But if we really want to mitigate climate change, it should not be only the forest that will mitigate for us, it should be us. We should reduce our consumption of electricity, reduce consumption of fossil fuel, make efficient transport systems, be efficient in our agriculture industry. That is the way forward. Not just forestry. But we should be happy because forestry is doing it for us.
The last item that I would like to ask from you and I will beg you is to help me prevent backsliding. I believe your vigilance will help. I am not asking only for heightened vigilance, I am proposing to institutionalize vigilance. Institutionalizing it by calling a Summit like this every year and compelling the DENR to stand here and account for its performance every year. Fortunately, it will not be me. I promise you, it will not be me. So, institutionalize it. I will continuously coordinate with GC, and before I leave, I want to make sure that we institutionalize this, Dr. Galang, so that you can make it a people’s hour and require the institution to account for what they have done for our environment every year.
Lastly, I would recommend that you help us legislate some of these very important policies: Total Log Ban should be legislated, No-Go Zone, Land Use Plan, and all other major policies.
Thank you very much.
February 26, 2021
November 23, 2020
October 23, 2019