Bandillo: An initial critique of the National Greening Progam

By RANDY FELIX P. MALAYAO
www.nordis.net

This writer’s stance on the National Greening Program has been transformed from one of guarded caution (who would not want a reforestation program?) to principled opposition. Recent developments dictate that National Greening Program (NGP) must be exposed and opposed. Not only is it a source of massive corruption but it has since become a program for massive landgrabbing and consequently reconcentration.

What is this National Greening Program (NGP)? On February 24, 2011, President Benigno S Aquino III issued Executive Order (EO) 26, declaring the implementation of the National Greening Program as a government priority program to reduce poverty, promote food security, environmental stability and biodiversity conservation, and enhance climate change mitigation and adaptation.

It mandates the the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Convergence Initiative to be the oversight committee of the program, with DENR as the lead agency, in cooperation with the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the private sector and other concerned agencies and institutions.

The program specifically seeks to plant 1.5 billion seedlings in 1.5 million hectares of public lands nationwide in six years, from 2011 to 2016—more than twice the government’s accomplishment for the past 25 years, which adds to about 730,000 hectares. Areas for planting under the program include forestlands, mangrove and protected areas, ancestral domains, civil and military reservations, urban areas under the greening plan of LGUs, inactive and abandoned mine sites, and other suitable lands of the public domain. NGP has four major components, namely survey, mapping and planning;  plantation establishment; seedling production/procurement, and protection and maintenance of established plantations.

All government agencies and institutions, including local government units, will provide full support to the program, not only in terms of tree planting, but also in the production of quality seedlings, mobilization of all government employees, including students from Grade 5 to college level, to plant at least 10 seedlings each, annually. The private sector is encouraged to participate in the program as well. Upland communities will also be tapped to be responsible in taking care of the seedlings planted by other participants. In turn, they will be included in the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Since the implementation of the program in Cagayan Valley in 2011, the region has planted 26,661.51 forest tree species such as mahogany, narra, rain tree, gmelina, molave, mahogany, white lauan, red lauan, Ipil, rubber tree and fruit trees such as mango, coconut, rambutan, cacao, lanzones, lime, pomelo, soursop, custard apple, cashew nuts, etc.

In 2013, the DENR was able to plant in CV 15,320.55 hectares of three plantations distributed as follows:  Cagayan, 764.18 hectares; Isabela, 6,265 has; Quirino, 2081.05 has; NV, 2049.03 has; and Batanes, 161.19 has. In 2014, 5,000 has. was added.

On national scale, from 2011 to 2014, however, the program was already 11.6-percent above target. The government has, so far, reforested a total of 1,005,013 hectares out of the actual target of 900,000 hectares during the said period. This leaves a balance of less than 500,000 hectares, which can easily be covered within the next two years (2015-2016).

Now, what are the dire consequences of the NGP Project?

First, this gargantuan project has resulted to further concentration, full control or monopoly use of vast tracts of land in in the hands of a few big foreign and local businessmen who invest in tree plantations. Farmers and indigenous peoples are deprived of their rights to their ancestral lands and right to acquire their positions.

Second, lands seized and occupied by the NGP project are actually not idle, vacant or abandoned. These are lands that have long been cultivated and developed, some are grazing lands and sources of materials for household needs. One outstanding case is that of Madadamian, Echague where 500 hectares has been awarded to a certain Iglesia ni Manalo Foundation at the behest of the DENR National Office. The residents are now threatened of being expelled from the land which has been a source of their livelihood for decades.

Third, there is no truth about the promise of the project that it will solve food security and lack of employment. NGP denies farmers vast lands where they derive their source of food and livelihood. Residents are reduced to mere growers and stewards of the plantation. Wage is extremely low at P11/day in the maintenance of a thousand trees per hectare for (P2.75 for weeding and cultivation, P5.50 for putting fertilizers and P2.75 for surveillance/patrol) and one-time payments of P10,500 per hectare or P5-10/tree (if ever this will be paid to the workers). Farmers are excessively exploited by DENR and its NGO/Corporate accomplices. Contract growers also get huge sum of dollars as their payment from foreign corporations in industrialized countries who buy carbon credits (they pay to plant trees in poor countries, rather than reducing their operations and pollution caused by their factories worldwide). Funds are scalped by LGU partners for NGP sites that do not actually exist and are concealed from the residents.

Fourth, COA has assailed the DENR that the huge P7 billion appropriations have been misused. The government appropriated P5.9 billion for the tree-planting program. The land surveys, on the other hand, had a budget of P1.3 billion also for the same number of years. the agency undertook the tree-planting program and the cadastral survey project covering 10 regions of the country without an efficient and effective system of implementing and monitoring projects. DENR identified “nonplantable areas” as tree-planting sites because it did not conduct mapping and planning. In some planting sites, the COA said the DENR had no partner organization to help monitor the plantations. “In the overall analysis, the unsuccessful DENR program/project delayed the benefits that could have been derived from the completion of the NGP and the cadastral survey project as envisioned by the program/projects” said the COA in its report.

Fifth, there is no security of tenure for farmers who have improved the lands. Although local POs or IPS have a fixed term contract to manage the plantation, their right to own the land has been effectively ended. DENR also require that the steward-growers should satisfy the requirements in the management of 500 hectare plantation otherwise they shall be replaced or be expelled by auctioning off the plantation to the big businessmen or corporation.

Sixth, the DENR or the government itself pays huge sums to Foundation/NGO/Corporate in the first MOA. In the next agreement, these same Foundation/NGO/Corporations can still control the vast land, manage and benefit from the large tree plantations. Because the project is a business venture, forests are not really restored because the primordial objective is to earn profit not to reforest. DENR has a record of long neglecting and stripping forests by allowing indiscriminate cutting of trees and plunder by big logging and mining companies. Issuance of Timber Licensing Agreements, IFMA, commercial logging continue. Even with “log ban”, “natural forest” is passed off by DENR as “forest plantation”. Corruption is rampant, not only in reforestation funds, but also in providing permits and in confiscated lumber.

Seventh, NGP is bogus reforestation because under mono-crop tree plantations (one type of plant) biodiversity (wide variety of animals and plants) is effectively rendered impossible. In 2011, only 10% (ten percent) of the planted trees are indigenous like narra. The 50% are falcata, gmelina, rubber etc. full commercial and foreign logging companies and 40% are foreign-owned plantations like coffee, cacao, cashew and fruit to supply the needs of Nestle (Nescafe), PhilCocoa, Inc. is partner of OLAM International Ltd., the global agribusiness company (DENR MC 2011-01). DENR’s Forest Management Bureau (FMB) reports that of the NGP’s total target of covering 300,000 hectares this year, around 40 percent will be planted to high-value commercial crops such as coffee, cacao and rubber. In Northern Luzon alone, 21,505 hectares Ilocos Region; 39,724 hectares in the Cordillera Autonomous Region; 34,517 hectares in Cagayan Valley, have been appropriated for high value crops.

Lastly, there has been no consultation or public hearing providing adequate and timely information to affected citizens so as to decide correctly about his project. # nordis.net

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