To Take A Stand

A few days ago, I spotted this interesting piece of news that China has reportedly reassigned over 60,000 soldiers to plant trees in a bid to combat pollution by increasing the country’s forest cover. A large regiment from the People’s Liberation Army, along with some of the nation’s People’s Armed Police, have been withdrawn from their posts on the northern border to work on non-military tasks inland. Most will be dispatched to Hebei province, the area known to be notorious for the smog blanketing Beijing.

The idea is believed to be popular among members of online military forums as long as they can keep their ranks and entitlements. It comes as part of China’s plan to plant at least 84,000 square kilometers (32,400 sq.mi.) of trees by the end of 2019, which is roughly equivalent to the size of Ireland. The aim is to increase the country’s forest coverage from 21% of its total landmass to 23% by 2020, the China Daily newspaper reported. Zhang Jianlong, head of China’s State Forestry Administration, said by 2035 the figure could reach as high as 26%.

Companies, organizations and talent that specialize in ecological initiatives are enjoined to participate in the country’s massive greening campaign. Cooperation between government and social capital will be a deemed a national priority. Additionally, China clean energy plans call for the installation of 100 GW of solar power, 200 GW of wind, 350 GW of hydro, and 58 GW of nuclear power by 2020. From the status of notorious polluter of the environment, China aims to turn that around to being the champion for a sustainable future.

With China serving as role model and inspiration as to what government and society could do for the environment and create a better future for its society, I’m hurling a challenge to all Filipinos who believe in Human and Ecological Security and understand the urgent need to take the initiative to restore our denuded mangroves, watersheds and forestlands to win the future for all generations.

It’s a “whole-of-nation” undertaking that calls for collaboration amongst the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Department of Education (DepEd), the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), local government units (LGUs), and civil society.

In a nutshell, this is how it ought to be organized. The DENR, AFP, PNP, DepEd, CHED, and civil society should provide all the seedlings, prepare the areas for planting, and provide the manpower and drones to plant in target areas. LGUs mobilize their communities to secure and maintain the replanted areas, with specific focus on three denuded sectors: mangroves, watersheds, forests. Timeline: 2020 onwards. Goal: 1 billion trees per year on 1 million hectares annually, at a survival rate of 95%. Benefits: clean air, clean water, clean energy.

This is a specific challenge to:

• owners or lessors of large landholdings — individuals, corporations, learning institutions, mining companies, the military, church, indigenous peoples;

• local government units (upland, rural, coastal, urban);

• real property owners and developers (urban and/or rural);

• influencers on social media and in the mass media profession;

• civil society, i.e., civic clubs, NGOs, people’s organizations, the media, the religious, the academe, etc.

Those in coastal communities can do the mangroves — grow seedlings, plant, maintain and protect. Bakawan is a good specie. Restoring mangroves provides a safety belt against storm surge or tidal waves. And they provide new havens for spawning and feeding of marine life. Regrowing our watersheds means more water in our rivers necessary for agriculture, tourism, energy, and human consumption. What we do for watersheds can be replicated in denuded forest lands — grow seedlings, plant, maintain and protect. For watersheds, choose indigenous species. For forestlands, bamboo would be perfect.

According to official stats, 70% of us Filipinos are actively engaged in social media. Influencers in media can play a leading role in persuading and extracting commitment to generate a dedicated army of eco-citizens. Individuals and corporations with forest concessions, mining concessions, grazing lands, farm lands should maximize planting of protected and commercial trees in all barren lands to establish their perimeters, add value to their land, and provide livelihood to their employees and tenants.

LGUs should consistently beautify their areas of jurisdiction through their Clean and Green programs by creating protected forest parks, lining roads with trees, planting trees in communities that lack natural shade. Vertical greening is also a best practice. Contests and rewards should gain people’s excitement and participation. Schools, civic groups, and parishes — either in cooperation with, or independent of, their LGU — should add muscle to the effort by mobilizing their human resources to build nurseries, grow seedlings, and maintain/secure the re-planted areas.

To simplify the calculation. Let’s just assume that 2 million Filipino eco-warriors are mobilized to answer the call to save the future. They commit to:

• have a little nursery to grow seedlings (or buy from the nearest nursery);

• plant 10 three-month-old seedlings a week or 542 seedlings per year, or a total of 1-billion seedlings total per year; and

• maintain and secure the seedlings for at least three years;

• sustain the effort until 2028 when the Enhanced National Greening Program ends.

The AFP can mobilize its entire Reserve Force for the purpose. All former soldiers, sailors, airmen, and policemen too. The academic sector could require that all students — from grade school to post-graduate school — plant trees as a requisite for graduation and, in the process, instill the value of “maka-kalikasan” (being a nature lover). Civic clubs like the Rotary, Lions, and Jaycees nation-wide could roll up their sleeves and contribute significantly to human and ecological security. LGUs will have the lion’s share of manpower with 42,000 barangays to tap from. The use of drones for planting and reconnaissance would enhance survival rates.

The DENR has specific maps from the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority pinpointing the denuded mangroves, watersheds, and forestlands around the country. The cost of forest cover recovery could be funded through “debt-for-nature” swaps or through carbon credits. Nothing could be more worthy than saving our future. It would be our lasting legacy to future generations of Filipinos. Wouldn’t that be nation-building we could all be proud of? Everyone takes the credit. Lahat bida! Kayang-kaya pag sama-sama! (Everyone is a hero! It can be done if we are all together in it!)



Rafael M. Alunan III is a former Secretary of Interior and Local Government and chairs the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations.