How the Philippines Can Build Back Greener After COVID-19

Hon. Josephine Ramirez Sato

Protecting the world’s land and ocean resources outweighs financial costs at least five-to-one. Globally, this can lead to USD 250 billion in increased yearly economic output, plus USD 350 billion in improved ecosystem services annually.[1]

By investing in the natural systems that give Filipinos clean water, air and other resources, we can generate jobs and create a more resilient nation.

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the vulnerabilities of many Philippine sectors. The Department of Labor estimates up to 10 million Filipinos may lose their jobs by the end of 2020. Environmental frontliners have been particularly hard-hit.

In Occidental Mindoro, 35 wardens and 24 rangers from the Mts. Iglit-Baco Natural Park and Tamaraw Conservation Program were affected. Around 100 rangers protecting the Pasonanca Natural Park in Zamboanga lost their jobs.

To keep some of these frontliners afloat, several institutions launched creative fundraising initiatives. The  Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) of UNDP and DENR through the Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB) for instance, raised over PHP1.4 million for Mindoro’s rangers and wardens.

Investing in Nature Key to Resiliency

Safeguarding biodiversity reduces future health risks and makes society more resilient.

This piece hopes to spur ideas to generate resources and jobs for conservation, while helping better guide the allocation and implementation of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases or IATF’s PHP 1.3 trillion stimulus and recovery package.

Around PHP650 billion of the stimulus package has been allotted for the Enhanced Build, Build, Build Program, which covers the construction of climate-smart and resilient infrastructure.

These include greenscapes, rainwater harvesting systems, nature-based solutions to floods, droughts and typhoons, green infrastructure in public parks, integration of wastewater management plus the creation of new spaces such as greenways and community food gardens. All these can enhance biodiversity and ecosystems in a given locality.

The related ARISE Act recommends the development of an Economic and Ecological Resilience Plan (ERP). Climate change adaptation and mitigation investments are highlighted to reduce emissions and welcome climate-resilient development paths towards a green economy. Relevant provisions include better strategies to improve air quality, water availability and the proper treatment of solid and infectious wastes.

Most of the investment provisions in the proposed ARISE Act aims to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while jumpstarting the economy. The stimulus package is heavy on economic provisions and budget appropriations to enable the country to recover faster, but with proper environmental considerations. Nature-positive solutions can create stable jobs and protect our planet.

Below are seven steps for the country to build back greener:

1)      Include Protected Areas (PAs) and key biodiversity areas (KBAs) as key elements of nature-based solutions. We need to leverage our natural capital, particularly the untapped potential of our PAs, and ensure that protecting nature is central to our green recovery agenda.

2)      Invest more in our PAs and KBAs. Our protected areas have been heavily-dependent on government appropriations and external fund sources. The passage of the ENIPAS Act is a breakthrough for PA investments, but a large financing gap remains.

For instance, the proposed budget for FY-2020 was PHP3 billion. In a survey conducted by BIOFIN and BMB with PA officers in 2018, the country’s legislated PAs need at least PHP14.3 billion to operate at full-capacity from 2020 to 2022. BIOFIN estimates the annual PBSAP gap to be almost PHP19 billion, revealing the need to find alternative ways of raising funds.

This will cover personnel cost, programs, management and operational expenses for biodiversity and habitat protection, research, monitoring and restoration; community development and resource management; conservation and public awareness programs; institutional strengthening, partnerships and capacity-building.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives should ensure that our PAs and KBAs have adequate funding. Our PAs have the potential to generate jobs for displaced workers and new business opportunities.

3)    Fast-track the passage of the following congressional bills:

a.       House Bill 00260 – An Act strengthening the national policy on access and benefit sharing from the utilization of Philippine Genetic Resources.

b.      House Bill 00265 – An Act providing for a revised Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, appropriating funds therefor and for other purposes.

c.       House Bill 00268 – An Act providing for the collection, characterization, conservation, protection, sustainable use of and access to and benefit sharing of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, appropriating funds therefor and for other purposes.

d.      House Bill 2894 – An Act institutionalizing the Poverty Reduction through Social Entrepreneurship (PRESENT) Program and promoting social enterprises with the poor as primary stakeholders.

e.      House Bill 2895 – An Act rationalizing the economic regulation of water utilities, creating the Water Regulatory Commission and for other purposes.

House Bill 6878 – An Act strengthening the implementation of the National Organic Agriculture Program amending for the purpose Republic Act 10068, or the Organic Agriculture Act of 2010.

4)      Embrace Agrobiodiversity. Agrobiodiversity encompasses the variety and variability of animals, plants and microorganisms used for food and agriculture, including crops, livestock, forestry and fisheries. Examples of programs that support this are the National Organic Agriculture Program, Philippine National Aquasilviculture Program, Fisheries Resources Development and so forth. The stimulus package should embrace, fund and help prop-up agrobiodiversity programs.

5)      Leverage partnerships and private sector engagement for PAs. This includes CSR and potential models of people-centric programs for PAs. As PA managers prepare management and investment plans to comply with the ENIPAS Act, they should venture into project design and development.

This will allow PAs to generate viable programs, projects, and activities that the private sector can invest in. Examples are biodiversity-friendly enterprises, assistance to displaced workers, technical and vocational learning and so forth. Likewise, LGUs should increase investments and interventions to support PA development by allocating significant portions of its 20% development fund to support PA programs.

6)      Strengthen human resources. There is an opportunity to maximize incentives and leverage the provisions of the Philippine Green Jobs Act of 2016 (RA 10771). Local and district programs should encourage engaging TESDA and local state colleges and universities to provide skills-training for rangers and park service-providers.

Many of these rangers are farmers, fisherfolk or indigenous people and have been risking their lives to patrol our PAs. Together with DENR, it is time to develop a course which can be accredited as a minimum requirement for rangers to be regularized and given plantilla positions.

7)      Maximize technology and citizen engagement. As the country shifts to a new normal, maximizing the use of technology and web-based online platforms becomes more relevant. In light of PA and park closures, creative means must be employed to generate revenue. DENR and PAMOs with private-sector partners can explore the possibility of doing online or virtual tours, similar to those being done by museums and zoos, with certain fees or donations. Products and services from this initiative can also enrich the education of online students.

* * *

The COVID-19 pandemic taught us that PAs and KBAs cannot rely solely on government appropriations and other traditional income sources. Our PAMOs and other partners must determine appropriate finance solutions best-suited to their respective programs, projects and activities.

As UNDP-BIOFIN puts it, finance solutions are not limited to generating revenue or mobilizing new resources: they entail realigning of existing resources, preventing future costs and improving the delivery of existing finances. To weather these tough times, our PAs and managers must learn these elements to make their respective PAs financially-resilient. 

This global crisis is the country’s best opportunity to rearticulate development strategies and policies towards truly equitable, environmentally-sound and sustainable growth.

We are in the midst of one of the most trying times in our history. But by correcting our past mistakes, we can mend our broken relationship with nature. (ENDS)

The Mts. Iglit-Baco Natural Park (MIBNP) in Mindoro is home not just to the Tamaraw, but many kinds of endangered plant and animal species as well. Its mountains and forests also supply fresh water for Mindoro’s lowland agricultural communities. (Gregg Yan)
Many of the Philippines’ forests, lakes and rivers supply vital freshwater for nearby barangays, towns and cities. Shown is a portion of the Biak-na-Bato National Park, which is both ecologically and historically significant. (Gregg Yan)

Lake Manguao
 in Taytay, Palawan is a haven for birdwatchers, hosting at least 138 different bird species. It is also a vital watershed for the region. (Gregg Yan)

Congresswoman Josephine Ramirez-Sato of the Lone District of Occidental Mindoro 
is the principal author of the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (ENIPAS) Act of 2018. She is the Chairperson of the Committee on Accounts and Committee on Science and Technology of the Commission on Appointments. (Office of Josephine Ramirez-Sato)

Massive Ipo Watershed Reforestation Slated Next Year

DENR, GCash, WWF and BIOFIN to plant 365,000 native trees in 2021

Ipo Watershed, which supplies fresh water to 20 million people living or working in Metro Manila, will be bolstered with hundreds of thousands of new trees next year.

Through donations generated from GCash, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the United Nations Development Programme’s Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) will plant the first of 365,000 native trees like Narra, Lauaan, Kupang and Yakal as soon as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted in 2021.

“We originally wanted to plant in mid-2020, but decided to heed lockdown guidelines to ensure public safety,” explains Mabel Niala, Mynt Public Affairs and CSR Head of GCash. GCash is the Philippines’ top cashless service and serves a fifth of its population, plus 75,000 partner merchants and 75 nonprofits.    

Using their mobile phones, users can plant trees through GCash Forest. Users earn Green Energy Points by reducing their individual carbon footprints. Paying bills online for instance, eliminates the need to drive to a bank and consume paper for receipts and forms. More points can be garnered for walking to work, taking the stairs and avoiding single-use plastic items.

When users reach 20,560 points, his or her virtual tree will be fully-grown and a corresponding native tree shall be planted in Ipo Watershed.

Trees for Water

Trees provide innumerable services for people and nature. They provide oxygen, shade, habitats, erosion-control, food, medicine and other benefits.

Sadly, they are being cut down at astronomical rates. The Philippines is losing at least 52,000 trees daily. Logging, slash-and-burn-farming and land development are annually erasing 47,000 hectares of forestland – an area thrice the size of Quezon City. Just 7.168 million hectares of forestland remains in the Philippines.

Watersheds are zones which naturally collect and store water. They are typically heavily-vegetated because trees absorb rainwater which drains into streams, rivers and lakes.

Ipo Watershed, together with the Angat and Umiray watersheds, supplies 98% of Metro Manila’s water needs. Situated northeast of the sprawling Metropolis, it covers 7236 hectares in Norzagaray and San Jose Del Monte in Bulacan, plus Rodriguez in Rizal. It is home to several species of charismatic animals, including the Philippine Brown Deer, Philippine Warty Pig, Tarictic Hornbill, Grey-headed Fish Eagle and Osprey.

Though protected by several proclamations including a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title for the Indigenous Dumagat tribes of the watershed, Ipo Watershed is pockmarked by patches of burnt soil. From 85%, forest cover plummeted to 40% in recent years, mostly due to slash-and-burn or kaingin farming and charcoal-making.

It is estimated that for 2021, Metro Manila’s water demands will overtake supply by as much as 13% during peak days, meaning more dry faucets and unserved households – but taking care of watersheds can avert this.

“GCash Forest has proven that mobile technology can generate real change for our forests,” says Niala. “Everyone can now get a chance to plant a tree through the click of a button. If you haven’t tried GCash Forest yet, please download the app and help restore our forests today.” (END)

Watersheds host resident and migratory populations of waterbirds, such as this pair of rare Philippine Ducks (Anas luzonica). (Gregg Yan)

Water scarcity is a daily reality of millions of people. Planting trees and protecting groundwater sources is a form of insurance to keep our taps flowing. (Gregg Yan)
Ipo Watershed, together with the Angat and Umiray Watersheds, supplies 98% of the water requirements of Metro Manila, one of the world’s most densely-populated cities with a daytime population of 20 million people. In March 2019, 10,000 households lost access to fresh water owing to reduced water levels in nearby La Mesa Dam. Conversely, the lack of trees around Metro Manila contributed to massive and highly-destructive floods in late 2020. (Gregg Yan)

Rainforestation is the process of restoring ailing forests with native rainforest species instead of commercial or fruit-bearing trees. Ipo Watershed’s plant nursery brims with native species like Yakal, Kupang, Narra, Lauaan and Dau. DENR, GCash, BIOFIN and WWF aim to plant 365,000 new trees as soon as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted in 2021. (Gregg Yan)