MANILA -- Former battle-tested soldiers have formed themselves into a group to wage another kind of warfare -- mitigate the effects of climate change through massive tree planting nationwide.
The group is composed of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu, DENR Undersecretary Rodolfo Garcia, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) Administrator Reynaldo Velasco, and Congressman Leopoldo Bataoil.
They made their commitment at the Annual Million Tree Challenge (AMTC) Recognition and Pledging Day at the MWSS compound in Balara, Quezon City on Friday.
Incidentally, the four of them are former soldiers, graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), and veterans of the Mindanao War.
Cimatu was commander of the 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army when the 2000 Mindanao War broke out. It was his unit -- the 4th Infantry Division -- that was responsible for the capture of more than 40 camps of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Central Mindanao after reinforcing the beleaguered 6th Infantry Division. This earned him the sobriquet Gen. Pacman.
For his brilliance in combat strategy, Cimatu was named as the 30th chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) after his stint in Mindanao.
On the other hand, Garcia, Cimatu’s classmate in PMA Class of 1970, was assigned in Mindanao for most of his military career, particularly at the height of the armed conflict where he demonstrated his fighting ability. Garcia retired as major general and AFP vice chief of staff for operations.
Velasco, the first commander of the famed Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine Constabulary (PC), now of the Philippine National Police (PNP), saw action in Mindanao when he led his unit - not only in fighting rebel forces during the long-drawn Mindanao War, but also wanted criminals in the region.
For his bravery in combat, Velasco was promoted to deputy PNP director general with a three-star rank.
Bataoil, a retired two-star general of PNP, who also saw action during the Mindanao War, is now a congressman representing the second district of the province of Pangasinan.
For the four retired general, they found themselves being recalled to “active duty,” but this time, not as combatants but serving in various capacities when they were appointed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte to high government posts.
Upon assuming his new position as MWSS administrator, Velasco initiated the project, which he dubbed as the “Annual Million Tree Challenge”, by encouraging both government and private sectors to plant one million trees a year for five years from 2017 to 2022 to mitigate the effects of environment degradation as a consequence of climate change.
Cimatu immediately supported and endorsed the noble project with the full participation of the DENR, MWSS, and its two major concessionaires, Maynilad and Manila Water.
During the AMTC recognition day, Velasco said the reforestation project began last year in response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s call for sustainable watershed protection, which the latter reiterated during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) before Congress last Monday.
“We have been already pursuing noble programs and projects on water conservation and the protection and care of our country’s natural resources,” Velasco said.
“The clarion call and policy pronouncement of President Duterte is very clear: restore environmental integrity as he recognizes the people’s stewardship of our country’s natural resources,” he added.
“Even as the Duterte administration continues to wage war against criminality, it is admirable that the President is also focused on waging war against environmental degradation,” Velasco said.
The AMTC project started last year with the goal of planting one tree in six critical watershed areas -- La Mesa, Umiray, Angat, Ipo, Marikina and Laguna Lake, all in Luzon.
During the first year of operation, Velasco said the goal of one million was surpassed when “over 1.2 million trees (were) planted in various watershed (target) areas.”
He said DENR 3 (Central Luzon) planted 586,000 trees; DENR 4A (Calabarzon) with 296,000 trees planted; DENR National Capital Region with 137,700; Maynilad with 130,000; World Wide Fund with 43,500; MWSS Regional Office with 20,000; University of the Philippines Mountaineers with 500; Rotary District-3780 with 2,500; and JCI Senate Philippines with 500 trees planted.
Velasco said Manila Water nurtured, protected and planted 86,000 trees in the past two years, while ABS-CBN Lingkod Kampamilya Foundation planted 31,600 samplings.
He also called on various agencies to continue without letup reforesting mountains in the countryside, to “protect the watersheds for potable and cleaner water, prevent flooding and mitigate other natural disasters in an era of climate change.”
Meanwhile, Garcia cited the success of the reforestation program, saying the Annual Million Trees Challenge “complements the DENR’s expanded national greening program or ENGP, the largest reforestation program in our country’s history, which started in 2011 and will continue until 2028.”
He said from 2011 to 2016, 1.7 million hectares were planted with 1.3 billion seedlings.
From July 2017 to June 2018, the DENR and its partners planted trees on more than 184,500 hectares, increasing the total reforested area to 1.87 million hectares, Garcia said, adding that “from 2017 to 2022, we aim to reforest 1.2 million hectares.”
Bataoil, on the other hand, vowed to support the reforestation project even as he called for the campaign for massive planting of the famed Philippine “Ylang Ylang” or cananga tree, whose flowers can be used for the manufacture of one of the best perfumes in the world.
Other speakers during the event were Education Undersecretary Alain del Pascua, Ramoncito Fernandez, president and chief executive officer of Maynilad, and Ferdinand dela Cruz, president and chief executive officer of Manila Waters, who pledged to continue their full support for the Annual Million Tree Challenge to succeed. (PNA)