PIRANUN, Maguindanao: The Department of Environment and Natural Resources office in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (DENR-ARMM) on Saturday reactivated a massive tree-planting program that targets to plant 883,000 trees across the region this year.
The advocacy, aptly dubbed “Balik-Kalikasan,” was spearheaded by the DENR-ARMM, with the Army’s 603rd Infantry Brigade (IB) based in this camp, as partners in the planting of 1,500 tree seedlings. Over 100 other environmental advocates also joined the activity.
The camp, situated at the heart of Barira town, is the former main bastion of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) called Camp Abubakar that fell into government hands in 2000 during the height of the all-out military operation against Moro insurgents by the then Estrada administration.
More than a decade after its fall, the former rebel fortress has transformed into a center of a greening program by the government, with the 603rd IB watching over the sprawling forest cover straddling the 32,000-hectare Barira-Buldon-Matanog expanse.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, meanwhile, is currently nearing completion of a comprehensive peace deal with the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III.
“We would be planting mahogany, antipolo, rubber and coffee seedlings this year in the region,” DENR-ARMM Secretary Kahal Kedtag said.
He added that his office has a pending P300-million budget proposal before the DENR headquarters in Manila for this year, some five times bigger that the 2013 budget of P49 million.
“There is barely a 20 percent forest cover left in the entire region and our plan is to at least increase it to 30 percent this year,” Kedtag said.
The “alarming” situation, Kedtag added, has prompted ARMM lawmakers to legislate measures in declaring a “total log ban” in the region since 2010.
The ARMM comprises the cities of Marawi and Lamitan and the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi.
“As early as this time, let us teach the children to care for the environment, as it is their responsibility to take care of what would be handed to them by us environmentalists,” ARMM Vice Governor Al Rashid Haroun Lucman said here.
For his part, Col. Noli Orense, 603rd IB chief, said that the “balance of nature should be a primary task for everyone to sustain, as God gifted us a balanced, perfect nature to nurture.”
Balik-Kalikasan was first launched in 2006 but decommissioned thereafter following succession of changes in the ARMM leadership brought about by past elections and the infamous, election-related 2009 Maguindanao Massacre that toppled down the Ampatuans from power due to alleged involvement in the killing of 57 people, including 33 media personalities, in the carnage.