By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Thursday asked the government to prove that it had planted more than a billion trees before lawmakers agree on increasing its budget for the National Greening Program (NGP) for next year.
Recto made the call during the Upper Chamber’s plenary debates on the proposed 2020 budget of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Under the Senate’s version of the General Appropriation Bill, the NGP was given a P4.5 billion budget under the DENR outlay, said Senator Cynthia Villar, finance committee vice chairperson.
The amount was lower than the P5.15 billion proposed by the Department of Budget and Management, but is almost double that this year’s P2.6 billion budget.
The Senate leader was skeptic about the budget increase especially as proposed government allocations for health and education for next year suffered decreases from their current budgets.
For this reason, he said the results of the DENR’s forest rehabilitation program would have to be proven first to the Senate before they decide to grant the proposed NGP budget.
Recto said the NGP was given a total of P38.9 billion in allocations from 2011 to 2019.
With this fund, he said the DENR should have planted more than 1.8 billion trees in 2.1 million hectares of land over the past nine years.
Citing NGP data from 2011 to 2018, Recto said the government has so far planted some 1.6 billion trees in 1.9 million hectares of land.
“What we have been shown so far is a forest of newsprint of reports and vouchers of spending on NGP. Show us the actual greenery,” Recto appealed in his statement sent earlier.
The government should also be able to report the reason for the low survival rate of the seedlings, he added.
Speaking in behalf of the DENR, Villar said the agency will be providing the Senate photos and documents showing the outputs of the NGP over the years. She said survival rate of the trees planted is currently at 65 percent.
Villar admitted not being satisfied with the output of the NGP as she lamented that the trees being planted do not survive.
Former President Benigno Aquino III in 2011 issued Executive Order (EO) No. 26 which authorizes the implementation of the National Greening Program as a government priority program to reduce poverty, ensure food security, conserve biodiversity, and enhance climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Under the program, 1.5 billion seedlings should be planted in 1.5 million hectares of public lands nationwide in six years, until 2016.
In 2015, Aquino signed Executive Order No. 193 or the Enhanced National Greening Program, to rehabilitate all the remaining unproductive, denuded and degraded forestlands estimated at 7.1 million hectares from 2016 to 2028.