The country was seemingly caught by surprise Thursday last week when an announcement was made that the 15th president of the Republic of the Philippines, Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III, died due to renal disease secondary to diabetes.
Aquino, 61, popularly known as PNoy during his presidency, had barely been in the limelight, especially lately, after his presidency ended in 2016. Numerous eulogies, coming not only from his Cabinet members and others who had directly worked with him but also from ordinary citizens, have been given to PNoy. His remains were cremated several hours after his death and the inurnment was held Saturday at the Manila Memorial Park.
PNoy’s death made me realize that it was during his term of office, from 2010 to 2016, when I had a lot of assignments providing technical assistance to numerous conservation projects with international funding support. During that time the country was enjoying support and recognition from the global community. I thought it was the reason why a good number of conservation projects were developed and implemented in the country during the six-year term of PNoy.
I am aware of several initiatives, but I will only concentrate on programs and projects that I was fully involved in. These include the three major projects of the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources supported by the United Nations Development Programme – Global Environment Facility, namely, the New Conservation Areas of the Philippines Project (NewCAPP), Biodiversity Partnership Project (BPP), and the Small Grant Programme (SGP) Phase 5. The national government had similarly invested a large amount of funds as counterpart for these projects.
The NewCAPP was building on the thrust of diversifying conservation modalities outside the realm of protected areas and furthering the involvement of local stakeholders. It was within the priorities of the Aquino administration in making a larger constituency in promoting biodiversity conservation. This initiative implemented two important conservation models – the Local Conservation Areas established by local governments and the Indigenous Cultural Conservation Areas declared by the Indigenous People. The DENR has adopted the LCA and ICCA as strategies in biodiversity conservation in two separate national conferences.
The BPP was aimed to pilot the mainstreaming of biodiversity conservation in the larger landscape and seascape. The approach included the integration of conservation measures in the Comprehensive Land Use Plan of LGUs, as well as in the development framework of the Department of Agriculture so as to promote biodiversity friendly agriculture and enterprises. The Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board had crafted a guideline for the adoption of biodiversity conservation in the development of the CLUP of LGUs. Meanwhile, the SGP initiated the implementation of conservation projects involving nongovernment and people’s organizations. The UNDP-SGP similarly funded the SGP phase 5.
There were two other internationally funded projects that I was involved in between 2010 and 2016. One was the protected area financing, which was part of the larger project of the World Bank with the DENR, and the other was with the Germany-based GIZ.
Barely a year in office in 2011, PNoy came out with two executive orders. EO 23-11 declared a moratorium on commercial logging in natural and residual forest and EO 26-11 launched the ambitious National Greening Program. Although I had reservations about the provision of exempting government infrastructure projects from EO 23-11, I thought it was good enough as safeguards were also indicated. On the other hand, the government, through the DENR, had invested a good chunk of budget for the NGP without any international or external funding support. How these two executive orders were implemented was entirely a different story.
In 2012 and in spite of opposition from the mining sector, PNoy issued EO 79-19, which clearly defined areas that should be excluded from mining and a moratorium on the issuance of new mineral agreements pending legislation rationalizing revenue sharing and mechanisms. It further ordered the review of existing mining agreements as to their compliance to Republic Act 7492, or the Mining Act of 1995.
The delegation of the Philippines actively participated in the preparation and approval of the Paris Climate Change Agreement during the 21st Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2015. PNoy’s successor, President Rodrigo Duterte, was at first hesitant to become a party to the Paris accord, but later on changed his mind and affixed his signature to the agreement. The Senate had already ratified the Paris Agreement to make it binding for the Philippines.
One the hallmarks and legacies of PNoy was his determination to secure our Exclusive Economic Zone and territories containing rich natural resources. He asserted our exclusive sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea. In January 2013, the Philippines officially filed an arbitration case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration to invalidate the China’s nine-dash line and historic rights over West Philippine Sea and declare such territory as the EEZ of the Philippines. The country invoked the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in that petition, which was granted and approved by the international arbitration court in July 2016, shortly after PNoy stepped down as the president.
Thank you for all of these, PNoy. May your soul Rest In Peace.*