The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has submitted its proposal for the 2023 General Appropriations Act to Congress, and it outlines thematic priority thrusts for next year’s annual budget.
Out of its P24.1 billion proposed allocation for 2023, the DENR prioritizes its Enhanced National Greening Program having the highest budget amounting to about P2.49 billion. This proposed budget has been recently posted on the official Twitter account of the DENR. The NGP has been implemented for over a decade and while it has been noted to have successfully reforested certain parts of our denuded timberlands, it received a number of criticisms.
Foremost issue raised by some scientists and conservationists is the widespread use of exotic species in reforestation that are not in any way useful when we aim at restoring our denuded forestlands. Several NGP sites at the coastal areas were also established in seagrass beds and feeding grounds of migratory and other water birds, especially in mudflat areas, which basically converted these natural ecosystems. I am hoping that the NGP will calibrate its planting strategy if we want to increase our forest cover with indigenous and native species. Most of the species planted in the NGP sites are intended for production purposes.
On the other hand, the budget intended for intensified forest protection and anti-illegal logging, amounting to about P696,410 million, is far below that of the NGP. It is unfortunate as the protection of our remaining natural forests, either old growth or secondary, is still much needed. Many of the DENR field personnel assigned in forest protection are clamoring for an additional budget since they could not carry out the task effectively with the minimal funds provided even for their operational expenses. Having the experience in forest protection and law enforcement when I was still working with the DENR, I could only sympathize with forest guards who are the frontliners in forest protection and yet they are receiving low salaries.
The second priority thrust of the DENR next year, with a proposed budget amounting to about P1.6 billion, is the controversial rehabilitation of Manila Bay and Boracay, although it also included other tourist destinations. The Dolomite Beach established by the DENR received numerous criticisms as it has extracted dolomite minerals from other areas parts of the country and crushed and dumped them to form an artificial white sand beach in an area along the Manila Bay.
The long-term sustainability of the Dolomite Beach is in question because of the possibility that this artificial white beach could be wiped out when strong waves and sea currents occur, and it would mean losing the high investment poured into it. In addition, and it has already happened in several instances, this so-called white beach could be covered with solid waste as the solid waste management in its adjacent areas is still a problem.
The rehabilitation of the Manila Bay and Boracay is a task that would primarily be lodged with other government agencies than the DENR. The solid waste management, sewerage and waterways, and land use planning that are among the many other issues in Manila Bay and Boracay, are primary responsibilities of the local governments and other agencies, although the DENR has regulatory, monitoring, and evaluation functions on these concerns.
The DENR should, instead, focus on ensuring the compliance of numerous establishments on their waste water treatment facilities, which is the function of the Environment Management Bureau. (To be continued)*