Tree planting, surveys DENR’s top programs—Paje
Environment Secretary Ramon Paje has refuted the findings of state auditors, saying that rather than being failures, the massive tree-planting effort and cadastral survey undertaken by his department were its most successful programs.
Paje said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will keep planting in “nonplantable areas,” which he said were arid lands in certain Luzon provinces, in an attempt to stop these lands from turning to deserts.
“We have to insist on planting in areas experiencing aridity or extreme dryness. In the Ilocos sand dunes we made several attempts. If these are nonplantable areas, does it mean we should not plant there anymore?” he said in a phone interview Friday.
Not a failure
In its 2013 report, the Commission on Audit (COA) said the DENR’s P5.9-billion National Greening Program (NGP) and P1.3-billion nationwide land survey had been “unsuccessful” due to poor implementation and monitoring.
“Maybe for lack of technical personnel that was the outcome [of their audit]. We appreciate the audit. But we cannot accept that the NGP is a failure,” Paje said.
“These (NGP and cadastral survey) are our two most successful programs,” he added.
The COA said the DENR identified “nonplantable areas” as tree planting sites because it did not conduct a mapping and planning in the areas.
It said the delay in the delivery of seedlings added to the trees’ mortality rate. In some planting sites, the COA said the DENR did not have a partner organization to help monitor the plantations.
According to the COA, only 20 percent of the target 17,697 hectares of land were planted to tree seedlings in provinces in Central Luzon, while in the Ilocos region, only 53 percent of the target 14,954 hectares had been covered.
State auditors also noted that in the Calabarzon region, seedlings planted in areas of Cavite province were lost due to road widening projects.
Paje said he deliberately chose “nonplantable areas” in Luzon as tree planting sites, mentioning the provinces of Ilocos, Tarlac, Zambales and Nueva Ecija.
“These are nonplantable areas but we have to replant more than in Mindanao,” he said.
He said these areas needed trees more than Mindanao which, he said, had a more conducive environment for seedlings due to year-round rains.
“The survival rate [of seedlings] is low, yes. But we factored that in by including replanting in the three-year contract with farmer cooperatives. Under the contract they will replant what was lost,” he said.
Paje said the average seedling survival rate was 80 percent, though this was lower in Luzon.
He said that under his tenure, the NGP was no longer limited to hardwood like narra and mahogany but now included commercial plants like coffee, cacao, rubber and jackfruit to give farmers extra income.
Close to target
The NGP aims to plant 1.5 billion trees on 1.5 million hectares from 2011 to 2016.
“We are now close to our target. By 2015 we expect to have 1.5 million hectares planted,” Paje said, adding that the “real counting is in the hectarage, not the seedlings,” since not all seedlings survive to maturity.
He said the trees lost in road clearing projects were only “a few hundred” compared to the millions of seedlings planted elsewhere.
As for the cadastral survey, Paje said the DENR’s nationwide land survey was 97 percent complete. He said that when they started in 2010, only 46 percent of the country’s land area had been surveyed.
“Is that a failure? Definitely there are bidding problems, glitches, but we have addressed them,” he said.
Paje admitted though that the DENR had delegated the survey of five provinces in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to local officials “since our surveyors were getting shot at.”
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