(Delivered by DENR Strategic Communication and Initiatives Service Director Hiro V. Masuda, DBM, CESO IV)

Happy Earth Day, everyone, especially to our partners at Earth Day Network Philippines!

Like last year, we are celebrating Earth Day this year in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. We celebrate, despite the pandemic, because there are good reasons for doing so. I shall highlight these reasons shortly in this state of the environment report, on behalf of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which is the primary agency responsible for the conservation, management, development and proper use of our country’s environment and natural resources.

Let me start with air quality. Restrictions on human activities brought about by the pandemic, starting in March 2020, gave us cleaner air. But the credit stretches back to gradual gains in prior years.

In terms of particulate matter or PM 10, where the standard is 60, we improved by 64% from 76 in 2011 to 27 in 2020, nationwide. In PM 2.5, where the standard is 25, we were able to lower the level from 20 in 2016 to 15 in 2020.

In water quality, our monitoring of 36 priority recreational waterbodies in 2020 found 21 or 58% to be within the water quality guidelines in terms of fecal coliform counts. Water quality was better in the 43 rivers that we monitored, with 32 of them or 74%, passing the standard for biological oxygen demand.

In solid waste management, we established 824 more materials recovery facilities in 2020, raising the total to 11,546 MRFs servicing 14,450 barangays nationwide. We increased the number of sanitary landfills from 187 in 2019 to 241 in 2020.

Solid waste management has never before been as better for the country. We have vigorously pursued the closure of illegal dumpsites. We just encountered minor setbacks when our Environmental Management Bureau-National Capital Region Regional Director Don Clemente, succumbed to COVID-19 while Undersecretary Benny Antiporda was also severely affected by the dreaded virus.

But he is now on his road to recovery. Thanks to all the prayers.

These officials, along with other regional executive directors and EMB regional directors, relentlessly pushed activities under solid waste management program. I assure you, however, that we never have and never will falter in the implementation of our solid waste management program.

In forestry, despite the pandemic and varying levels of community quarantine, we were able to reforest more than two million hectares of denuded or degraded forest lands under our National Greening Program, from 2011 to 2020.

Last year, we planted over 37.2 million seedlings of various species across 47,299 hectares, surpassing our target of 46,907 hectares.

To further effectively manage and protect our country’s forests from destruction, we have updated the National Forest Protection program for 2021 to 2025. Specifically, we underscored the importance of improving forest cover in mitigating the impacts of climate change.

The NFP program spells out strategies in the preparation of forest protection law enforcement plans of the DENR field offices.

The plan includes, but not limited to, provision of logistic and material support to institutionalization of reforms such as forest certification and timber legality and assurance systems.

We scaled up our coastal and marine resources management, in accordance with our country’s standing as the world’s center of marine biodiversity.

We assessed and graded the quality of our coastal habitats and marine protected areas based on their hard coral cover and seagrass cover.

It is estimated that our coastal and marine ecosystems consisting of seagrass beds, coral reefs, mangrove forests and diversity of marine species, are worth at least 15.3 trillion pesos, most probably a great deal more.

Let me now proceed to enhanced biodiversity conservation. Our country is one of the 17 most mega-biodiverse in the world, but our biodiversity is the most threatened in our planet. We host more than 52,000 known species, of which more than half is found nowhere else.

Since 1984, we have been able to get nine of our natural parks, forest reserves and wildlife sanctuaries designated as ASEAN heritage parks, and two of them were also declared as UNESCO World Heritage sites. They are Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in Palawan and the Mt. Hamiguitan range Natural Park in Davao Oriental.

We were also able to have seven of our wetlands declared as Ramsar sites under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. The latest to be declared in February this year was the Sasmuan Pampanga coastal wetland.

The increasing number of heritage parks and wetlands of international importance in the Philippines is an indication that we are on the right track in terms of our protection, management, and conservation efforts. The key therefore is to sustain our gains.

In land administration and management, we issued 16,405 agricultural free patents covering 10,495 hectares in 2020. Since 2010, we have issued 701,813 agricultural free patents nationwide to target beneficiaries.

We also issued 32,580 residential patents in 2020, raising the total since 2011 to 490,199 nationwide.

The foregoing does not only highlight what we have accomplished for the country’s environment and natural resources sectors. It also indicates that we are not faced with a bleak future. With continuing hard work and stronger partnerships, we will be able to do more and sustain our actions.

Nonetheless, these accomplishments are still worth celebrating. They would not have been attained without the cooperation of all our stakeholders and local and global partners.

This year, we are proceeding according to our 10 major programs. These consist of the following:

Intensified environmental protection in the three priority areas of clean air, clean water, and solid waste management; 4th, enhanced national greening program; 5th, intensified forest protection and anti-illegal logging; 6th, enhanced biodiversity conservation; 7th, scaling up of coastal and marine programs; 8th, improved land administration and management; 9th, geo-hazard, groundwater assessment, and responsible mining; and 10th, the cleanup and rehabilitation of Manila Bay.

As you can see, we have plenty of work ahead of us, even with the pandemic persisting as an obstacle. We would have achieved much more in 2020 had the pandemic not supervened. And so, we are eager to do better this year and, in the years, ahead.

With the support from Earth Day Network Philippines and our other partners, we are confident that we will be able to make good progress in our quest for sustainable development.

Ang mas maayos na kapaligiran at mas mayamang likas yaman ay hindi imposible sa ating pagsasama-sama, sapagkat Ikaw, Ako, Tayo ang Kalikasan!

Again, I wish you all a happy Earth Day!

Maraming salamat po at mabuhay tayong lahat!