Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Wednesday, May 12, backed the proposed construction of a “mega vaccination center” at the 8.5-hectare urban forest in Parañaque City, saying that there are funds, anyway, to replace the trees to be cut for the project.
Recto echoed the justification of officials in pushing for the construction of the vaccination facility amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which the country has yet to contain more than a year since it started.
The project was opposed by the Nayong Pilipino Foundation (NPF), which owns the property, and environmental advocates as some 500 trees will be cut to pave the way for its construction.
“The trees will not be chainsawed by illegal loggers, but the lot on which they stand will be used for a facility that will protect millions of lives,” Recto said in a statement.
“Yes, the trees there serve as urban lungs. But what also cannot be denied is that the lifesaving facility that will be built serves the same purpose, to protect people from getting COVID so they won’t be gasping for air on the driveways of overwhelmed hospitals,” he added.
For the Senate leader, the trees could anyway be replaced with “billions of pesos” allotted in the 2021 national budget for planting trees.
Specifically, he noted the P3.158-billion budget of the National Greening Program (NGP) under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which he said will be good for planting 44.6 million seedlings.
“DENR’s mega billions for NGP can fund the establishment of a green belt in the area, including mangroves as the latter is in NGP’s approved menu of projects. Or it can reforest a wide swath of the denuded Marikina watershed in honor of the Nayong Pilipino trees which were sacrificed so people may live,” Recto said.
Senators, however, had previously questioned the success of the said program, as forests and mountains supposedly remained denuded.
Even Recto, in 2019, asked for proof that the reforestation program had been successful before funds were granted for the program.
Aside from the NGP fund, Recto said the DENR also has P1.553 billion for the implementation of its “Operational Plan for Manila Bay Coastal Management Program, which is supposedly the source of its controversial dolomite sand project.
He said the government can instead spend the fund for a mangrove planting project, “which many experts argue is a better rehabilitation material than imported sand.”
“Sa bawat Ipil-Ipil na pinutol sa lote ng Nayong Pilipino, kayang-kayang pondohan ang 100 na kapalit. Pwede ngang isang milyong puno, o isa sa bawat Pilipinong tinamaan ng COVID. Ang punto ko, mayroong compensation fund kung kakailanganin (For every Ipil-ipil tree cut down in the Nayong Pilipino lot, funds are sufficient to plant 100 trees as a replacement. You can plant a million, even, for every Filipino stricken with COVID-19. My point is, there is a compensation fund if necessary),” Recto said.
“The NPF property is the rally point of a massive counterattack against the deadly virus. Let it be the staging area of the science that will defeat the pandemic and save us all,” he appealed.