By FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER JOSE C. DE VENECIA JR.
“These are the times that try men’s souls,” wrote American philosopher and political theorist Thomas Paine in 1776. Meant for different circumstances, his words fittingly describe the current situation of our country and the world, in the midst of the raging coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Indeed, we are living in uncertain times. This global plague has altered the course of our lives. We continue to storm heaven with prayers that this scourge will be contained soonest, if not completely eradicated, to prevent further loss of precious human lives, on top of the massive loss of employment and colossal damage to the economy.
When this coronavirus scourge is surmounted, the next gigantic challenge for country and the international community is how to rebuild lives and communities. In the meantime, let us contribute our share in fighting this pandemic and in helping our fellowmen, especially our fellow Filipinos, in whatever way we can.
Although, rightfully, our attention and efforts are focused on stamping out this coronavirus pandemic, let us not negate other threats of nature that have been besetting our country and the world for many years now and for which we have been warned about.
One of these is environmental degradation which, sadly, most of us have been taking for granted, if not completely ignored. While this columnist is not an environmental expert, we believe this clear and present danger will explode in the near future.
This global threat is becoming more and more serious that the World Economic Forum last January, 2020, launched a program to “grow, restore, and conserve one trillion trees around the world and in a bid to restore biodiversity and help fight climate change.”
As we mentioned in our column much earlier, we were elated by this initiative by the World Economic Forum as we have been advocating a “Trillion Trees Program” in the international community since our earlier years as speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives and as founding chairman of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) as well as in the various international organizations which we are privileged to serve.
We believe reforestation and tree farming, on the scale and intensity the planet needs, can and must become a significant jobs-creating economic stimulus for developing countries, if not all countries, that the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the China-led AIIB, the regional banks, parliaments, political parties, and civil society should champion.
Massive tree planting can become a virtuous circle—of planting, cultivating, harvesting, processing timber and replanting, a forever cycle—that can generate tens of millions of jobs worldwide for poor young men and young women in the emerging countries, apart from addressing food shortage and expanding upland agriculture, and especially, perhaps more importantly, contributing in a most significant and in a most major way in the battle against climate change and environmental degradation.
For just as valuable, these new forests control mountain erosion, prevent the silting of streams and rivers, save human life from destructive floods that overflow the rivers, destroying crops, fish farms, livestock, cities, townships, villages, and hard-won economic gains.
We have proposed that programs be organized through what we may call “Billions of Trees Foundations” managed by civil-society groupings, and supported by governments, parliaments, and the political parties, or perhaps, even better, undertaken by governments themselves, and actively supported, even managed, by the private sector.
In 1933, during the Great Depression, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt formed the Civilian Conservative Corps (CCC), composed of 6 million young jobless Americans, mostly from the East, which, in less than 10 years, built more than 800 parks and planted 3 billion trees nationwide.
Roosevelt put the then young Douglas MacArthur, before he became the legendary World War II hero, in charge of the CCC—Civilian Conservative Corps—or Roosevelt’s Tree Army.