Sometime last year after the Commission on Audit released its findings that the National Greening Program (NGP) was a failure, I wrote President Benigno Aquino 3rd suggesting that if he wants to save the remainder of the program, he must personally make surprise random checks on NGP sites to see if trees are really growing there.
I explained that previous presidents had made the mistake of swallowing the rosy reports of their Environment Secretaries hook, line and sinker and as a result, it is good if 5 percent of all the seedlings planted in government tree planting programs since the time of his mother, President Corazon Aquino, have grown into trees.
In response, I received a furnished copy of a memorandum from Assistant Secretary for Field Operations Marcial Amaro, Jr. to OIC-Cordillera Regional Director Ralph Pablo stating that per instruction from the Secretary, he must bring me to any NGP site in the Cordillera I want to see. Apparently, my letter was misconstrued to be referring only to what was happening in my region and not all over the country. Although I mentioned the joke circulating in the Cordillera that if all the DENR seedlings planted in the region have survived, even the roofs of houses would now be forested, it was plain in the letter that I was referring to the implementation of the NGP in general.
I then wrote Pablo to provide me with their list of NGP sites with their basic data including the coordinates and likewise the incidents of burning by year starting 2011. They provided me the latter data but said that regarding the list and individual plantation data, I must communicate with the Community Environment and Natural Resources Offices (CENROs).
The instruction from Amaro was for Pablo to take the trouble of personally bringing me to any site in the Cordillera I want to see and here I am being directed to take the trouble of coordinating with two offices per province for data that are available in the regional office!
In response to my letter requesting the same data requested from the DENR-CAR, NGP National Coordinator Ricardo Calderon wrote me to say that I woluld have to get the data on the NGP sites from the DENR website and instead of giving me the national burning incident data, Calderon explained that fires are force majeure and enumerated what they are doing to minimize the incidence. Well I guess Calderon is different from Paje and Pablo because he reads selectively: it is impossible he does not know that their master list available in their website does not contain the coordinates.
That was not the end of it. When I requested Amaro to issue the same order he gave to Pablo to the regional directors of Regions 1, 2 and 3 so I would also be assisted in visiting sites in those areas, he told me he could not issue such orders unless he first get an instruction to that effect from Paje. Same situation, same need and what he wants is I have to write Paje to request for the same treatment from other DENR regions what Paje already thought was alright for the DENR-CAR to extend to me. If that’s not stupidity, I do not know what is.
On second thought, I strongly suspect they are just pretending to be stupid and their actual intent is to try and hide what is happening to the NGP. In the case of the NGP burning report, the Cordillera data gives the hint that the national figure could be staggering. According to the data, as of March 2016, 2,600 hectares have already been burned. Multiply that by the budget for the seedlings and the planting per hectare of P10,000.00 then that’s a cool P26,000,000.00 that went up in smoke in the Cordillera alone. No wonder, in his letter, Calderon pretended I was asking why the burning of plantations continues. Pathetic.