TREE PLANTING ACTIVITY. Local government and irrigation officials, along with Japanese participants plant trees on the watershed area of Upper Tabuating Irrigation project in Gen. Tinio, Nueva Ecija on Friday. (Photo by Marilyn Galang)

GEN. TINIO, Nueva Ecija -- Some 3,000 narra and mahogany seedlings were planted Friday in the watershed of a newly-built dam, in the vicinity of the Sierra Madre mountain range in this province.

The massive tree-planting activity was spearheaded by the National Irrigation Administration - Upper Pampanga River Integrated Irrigation System's (NIA-UPRIIS') Division 3, in partnership with the local government unit here.

Engineer Jose Ariel G. Domingo, manager of the division, said the activity at the watershed area of the Upper Tabuating Irrigation Project (UTIP), which is set to irrigate 800 hectares to 1,000 hectares of new service area, was party of the agency's drive to "green the Philippines the NIA way."

Both incumbent Mayor Melvin Pascual and incoming mayor Isidro Pajarillaga led the municipal employees, as well as representatives of various sectors and officials of some Japanese firms and other UPRIIS' divisions.

"Ito ay alinsunod sa programa ni Administrator (Ricardo) Visaya na ginagawa ng lahat ng mga opisina ng NIA sa buong Pilipinas (This is in accordance with the program of Administrator Ricardo Visaya, which is being done by all NIA offices across the Philippines),"

Domingo said, saying NIA also carries the theme "Tree. Water. Life."

He said trees at the watershed would protect the dam.

"Saka siyempre, pag may puno, may tubig (Of course, if there are trees, there is water)," Domingo said.

The PHP440-million dam and reservoir is set to operate within the year to benefit at least 350 farming families in this municipality, particularly in the villages of Nazareth, Bago, and Rio Chico, among others.

In line with the tree-planting activity, Pajarillaga also launched the town's "Three Million Trees in Three Years" program, which aims to reforest the erstwhile logging hotbed of Nueva Ecija, particularly the Sierra Madre.

The program, he said, involves non-government and civic organizations or private participation.

"Because of the water sustainability program, makapag-develop tayo ng watershed at yun nga kabundukan na ito, majority dito ay yung Sierra Madre e nakita naman natin kalbung-kalbo na (we can develop the watershed and this mountain, majority of which is Sierra Madre. We can see that it is already denuded)," Pajarillaga said.

"Ibalik natin yaong dating kagubatan na magkaroon ng buhay, magkaroon uli ng hayop diyan, buhayin mula ang ating mga kailugan, ang mga kabukiran, ang mga taniman natin, ay umagos na muli ang tubig (Let us bring back the former forest to have life, to have animals there again. Let us revive the rivers, the rice fields and farms, so that water would flow again)," he said.

Pajarillaga identified the three major rivers here as the Sumacbao, Rio Chico, and Tabuating rivers.

“But these rivers are continuously drying up,” he said.

He vowed to push for agri-business and tourism to fuel the local economy and uplift the lives of the townfolks. (PNA)