Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje called on the business sector to join the government’s greening program in the recent 37th Philippine Business Conference and Expo held at the Manila Hotel in Manila.

“The DENR welcomes and seeks partnerships with the private sector, particularly in the National Greening Program which no less than President Aquino has launched as a priority project not only to reforest the country’s denuded and degraded forest areas but also meant to reduce poverty, promote food security and biodiversity conservation, and mitigate the impacts of climate change,” Paje said.

Paje acknowledged the continuing effort of leading businesses towards good environmental citizenship as part of their corporate social responsibility programs or an integral part of their business operations. He cited in particular the establishment of the Philippine Business for the Environment in 1992 as a milestone in the long line of efforts of the private sector to become more pro-environment. However, he admitted that getting the small and medium scale enterprises to comply with environmental standards remain a challenge.

“The challenge that confronts us now is how to get the rest of the business sector, down to small, medium and micro-scale enterprises, to also become fully compliant with environmental standards,” he stressed.

According to him, the environmental policies that are in force today in the form of laws, rules and regulations, and executive issuances are among the best in the world. However, he said that while some businesses regard complying with these regulations are costly, the “costs of not complying with them are infinitely greater to the society as a whole” especially in light of the global problem on climate change, which he said, also affect the business sector by devastating its markets and suppliers.
Relative to this, he stressed that private-public partnership should be highlighted on top of the business sector’s undertakings to comply with environmental laws and regulations to address the pressing issue of climate change.

Citing a report from PAG-ASA, Paje said that the number of destructive typhoons that hit the country in the first three years of the 21st century has increased, from 6.75 typhoons in 2000 to 2003 to 9.7 typhoons per year from 2004 to 2007.

Further, the climate pattern in the country has already been drastically altered with prolonged wet season accompanied by heavy rainfall beyond the normal monthly average, inundating low-lying areas, causing damage to farmlands and other agricultural products and landslides.

To address the issues of climate change and to minimize damage to life and property, the government has embarked on massive tree planting activities in various denuded areas to increase forest cover which is currently peg at 7.2 million hectares or 26 % of the country’s land area of 30 million hectares.

By increasing forest cover, the government is reducing carbon in the atmosphere as carbon is absorbed by trees. Forests also stabilize soil, thereby reducing the incidents of landslide while regulating the flow of water by storing them in the watershed.

Paje stressed that trees that will be planted under the National Greening Program (NGP) will not only increase the country’s forest cover but also help poor Filipinos in the upland and lowland areas improve their economic status. Part of the NGP is the planting of fruit-bearing trees such as mango, jackfruit, cashey, guyabano, coffee and cacao that will be owned by the community.

Aside from the rehabilitation of denuded forest areas, the DENR also implements programs and strategies to provide residents of Metro Manila and other urban cities a cleaner air. Paje reported that the total suspended particulates (TSP) in Metro Manila is 126 micrograms/normal cubic meters (ug/Ncm) in the first half of 2011, 40% beyond the national standard of 90 ug/Ncm.

To address the issue of air pollution, the DENR secretary said that the government has intensified the enforcement of the Clean Air Act on motor vehicles as they are the main contributor to air pollution, and instill discipline as well as improve compliances with emission testing by installing close circuit TV cameras (CCTV) in all vehicle emission testing centers. The DENR also imposed joint liability in PETC regulations in cases of “no-show” or the issuance of certificates to vehicles without undergoing actual emission test, Paje added.

Paje also reported the government’s programs in pursuit of the Clean Water Act and to clean up the major rivers which drain to Manila Bay. One of these is the “Adopt-an-Estero” program which, according to him, has led to the forging of more than 200 memoranda of agreements with the private companies nationwide, including Jolibee Corp, San Miguel Foundation, Toyota, among others.

Paje stressed that the government is also bent on reducing solid waste by requiring the Philippine Plastic Industry to develop a program for retrieval/collection/recycling of plastics and launched the reusable bag campaign for greener environment in partnership with the country’s major malls.

The country’s geographical location increases its vulnerability to extreme weather conditions which often resulted in the loss of lives and properties. To protect the communities from the hazards of earth movements like landslide, liquefaction and earthquakes, the DENR distributed 65,000 geo-hazard maps to all local government units and started the production of more detailed maps, with scale of 1:10,000, for 88 landslide-prone cities and municipalities.