Govt, citizens remain incurable optimists as new year ushers old, new challengers

In Photo: A laborer works on the columns of steel bar in a construction site in Macapagal Boulevard in Parañaque City. Despite the many challenges that arose in 2017, many Filipinos in and out of government office remain optimistic for the new year.

Part One

‘DAMN all this philosophy and psychology!” So says Ivan Alexyevitch in Anton Chekhov’s A Happy Man.

Had he been a person living in the Philippine archipelago, the list of things to be damned could go on. But, as they say, nobody beats a Filipino in terms of happiness.

Despite the lengthening list of issues that could drag a country into pessimism—future of the mining industry, conflict in the South, the Korea conflict and intragovernmental politics, the outlook remains positive.

The Filipino, indeed, is an incurable optimist.


TAKE the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for one.

With Secretary Roy A. Cimatu at the helm, the DENR is expected to make a fresh start. The agency will have to face the dilemma of deciding over the fate of more than two dozen large-scale operating mines and petitions seeking to reverse controversial issues concerning the extractive industry.

While the year 2018 promises to be a challenging year for an environment secretary who has no background in environmental protection and conservation, or the exploitation of natural resources—and “is still learning the ropes,” as Cimatu said—the year ahead is also promising by all indication.

Along with the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC), the DENR was tasked by Malacañang to review the appeals individually by mining companies whose operations hang in the balance, with Cimatu’s predecessor recommending either their closure or suspension as a result of a controversial mine audit—and failing strict social and environmental standards.

The task of the DENR chief is tricky. It requires striking a balance between the protection of the environment on one hand, and the exploitation of natural resources on the other.


DESPITE being a unicorn, having been in the military most of his life, the media-shy Cimatu took over last May. He was a shoo-in, easily getting the nod of the powerful Commission on Appointments (CA), who rejected environmental advocate Regina Paz L. Lopez over strong opposition from the mining industry represented by the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP).

Cimatu, a former Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff, has declined request for media interviews over the issue of mining. Still, the DENR chief appears to be happy with the mining industry lately.

In a brief speech during the formal and official adoption by the COMP of Canada’s “Toward Sustainable Mining initiative and Baguio Declaration,” Cimatu even thanked the members of the group, which represents the big players in the country’s mining industry, for accepting his challenge.

Under Cimatu, the DENR was able to surpass its 2017 targets, owing to the successful implementation of various programs and activities other than mining.

However, Wilfredo G. Moncano, director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), told reporters last November the bureau will still push for the lifting of the moratorium on new permits for mining as well as the ban on open-pit mining.

By the first quarter of the year, Moncano said there will be a lot of activities as he also vowed to resolve issues hounding the conflicting positions over Manicani Island in Guiuian, Eastern Samar and the province of Zambales.


THE coming year appears to be a promising year for the environment and natural resources sector, nonetheless, if the accomplishment of the agency is to be believed.

In his report, the environment chief said that as of October, the DENR already met and exceeded national targets and most program activities with accomplishments ranging from 100 to 138 percent. The report was submitted to Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. last December 4.

For instance, Cimatu reported that the agency’s program on solid-waste management topped the list of its major accomplishments at 138 percent, having assisted 321 local government units (LGUs) on proper closure and rehabilitation of open and controlled dumps within water quality-management areas (WQMAs) and the Manila Bay region, out of the original target of 233 LGUs.

This was credited by the DENR chief to the strict implementation of Republic Act 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, as he promised right after he took over the DENR post from Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez last May.

The agency’s program on the management and protection of protected areas and ecotourism development was its second-biggest accomplishment for the year, with various Protected Area Management Boards approving a total of 997 resolutions from the target of 736.  The PAMB is the highest policy-making body of a Protected Area which is mostly key biodiversity areas (KBAs) and areas set aside for conservation.

The completion rates of the protected area managed and protected, blue/green brigades/volunteers engaged, and ecotourism facilities maintained and rehabilitated were 100 percent, 108 percent and 103 percent, respectively.


MEANWHILE, as of September 2017, the DENR’s National Greening Program (NGP) had a 116-percent accomplishment rate in terms of the number of persons employed: 55,805 from the target of 47,981.

As regards the number of quality planting materials or seedlings, the program produced a total of 1.1 million, which is 14 percent higher than its target of 980,000. As of October, the government’s flagship reforestation program covered an area of 178,148 hectares or 93 percent of the overall target.

The DENR’s clean-water program also met its targets for the year. The accomplishment rate in terms of the number of firms monitored for compliance with the Clean Water Act was 106 percent, while the number of new esteros (estuaries) and water bodies was at 109 percent. The number of WQMAs operationalized was at 100 percent. Through its geohazard assessment and mapping program, the DENR was able to update the 1:1,000 scale geohazard maps of 21 LGUs instead of the original target of 20. The detailed subsurface assessments of its 15 targeted LGUs have also been completed.

The DENR also met its targets under the geospatial data infrastructure program: 100 percent in system analysis and 96 percent in program development. From the original target of 421, a total of 429 forest-protection officers were hired under the agency’s forest-protection program. Under its coastal and marine ecosystems-management program, the DENR was able to provide technical assistance to all targeted 85 LGUs. It was also able to assess and map 94,116 coastal habitats for potential livelihood opportunities, from the original target of 85,592.

The DENR’s clean-air program had successfully operated, maintained and calibrated 98 out of the 101 sampling stations; monitored 12,508 of the 13,791 firms in the Caloocan-Malabon-Navotas-Valenzula area and major centers on their compliance with the Clean Air Act of 1999; and calibrated 34 of 45 automatic Air Quality Monitoring Stations across the country.

To be continued

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