DENR drafts EO to prioritize watershed rescue in PH

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), through the Forest Management Bureau (FMB), is drafting an Executive Order (EO) that will elevate to national strategy status its efforts to regulate, rehabilitate, and develop the country's watersheds.

A statement showed that the EO will help the government to prioritize watershed rescue, and counter the effects of climate-linked calamities as well as ensure the replenishment of irrigation and hydro-electric or geothermal energy sources.

“This will pave the way for the establishment of institutional mechanisms for collaborative or whole-of-society efforts in conserving our watersheds,” Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu said during the launch of the Save Our Watershed (SOW) campaign.

DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu (Screengrab from pre-recorded speech)

FMB Director Marcial Amaro said he expects the EO to be filed with Malacanang before the end of the year.

Led by the DENR’s Forestland Management Project (FMP), the SOW campaign is a multisectoral effort co-funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) that targets to avert destructive effects of calamities in the country.

SOW targets to protect 71,300 hectares of forests within the critical watersheds of Upper Magat and Cagayan, Upper Pampanga, and Jalaur (Panay Island).

While talking about SOW, JICA Chief Eigo Azukizawa cited the unprecedented flooding in Cagayan Valley last year as the aftermath of Typhoon Ulysses, which was considered the deadliest typhoon to hit the Philippines in 2020.

“To see people on top of their houses submerged in flood is heart-breaking,” Azukizawa said.

As of 2019, there are 131 critical priority watersheds in the Philippines that support water facilities, hydroelectric power plants, and irrigation systems.

For one, the Cagayan River Basin irrigates around 300,000 hectares of rice fields.

On the other hand, the Jalaur River Basin in Iloilo, with an area of 1,503 square kilometers, can supply 90,611 million cubic meters of water.

Meanwhile, the Magat Hydroelectric Power Plant, one of the largest hydro facilities in Luzon, produces a maximum output of 388 megawatts and draws water from the Magat River.

For his part, Energy Development Corp. (EDC) Assistant Vice President Allan Barcena, who attended the SOW campaign launch, said it is extremely important for watersheds — forests that are sources of water that are “shed” into rivers, lakes, and seas—to be protected.

“Protecting watersheds is not only a corporate social responsibility program for us. It is part of our business strategy. When we’re protecting the watershed, it means our geothermal resource is sustained. If we don’t protect our watershed, our geothermal steam is not sustained. So for us, it’s both a commitment and a business strategy and mission,” Barcena said.

EDC runs 12 geothermal-powered power plants in Leyte, Bicol, Southern Negros, and North Cotabato with an installed capacity of 1,179 megawatts.