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Government’s tree-planting drive next year should join other grassroots jobs initiatives, as mobilizing “plantreetos and plantreetas” can shield its proposed P5.1 billion budget from wastage and delays, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said on Friday.

He said the move would help “mainstream” the National Greening Project (NGP), which had cost taxpayers P42.1 billion since 2011.

“This is one program, which, like a sapling, should not be hidden under the canopy of tall trees. At a time when pandemic-hit people at the ground are looking for income, this can be part of the government livelihood menu,” Recto said.

NGP’s implementing agency, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), can begin by posting in town plazas details of NGP projects, Recto suggested. “It can also partner with local governments willing to provide financial or ‘sweat’ equity.”

The NGP has a budget of P3.15 billion this year, but will be raised to P5.15 billion under Malacañang’s proposed 2021 national budget.

The amount will be used to produce 72.9 million seedlings for planting on 82,349 hectares of new forest plantations and in existing ones, the DENR said in a briefer for its proposed P25.5 billion agency budget for 2021.

By Recto’s count, the DENR had spent P42.1 billion on NGP from 2011 to 2020.

The agency ended 2019 having planted 1.807 billion trees in 2.141 million hectares of land over a period of 10 years.

“On paper, it is impressive because 2 million hectares of land reforested represents 1 in 15 hectares of the land in this country. Two million hectares is 32 times Metro Manila’s land area,” he said.

“Kahit sabihin pa natin na 62 percent lang ang success rate, kasi one out of three ay nalanta, nasunog, nabaha, a rate below the target 85 percent survival rate, malaki pa rin ang reportedly nataniman,” he said.

Recto urged DENR to show proof of its achievements. “Instead of counting the trees planted, it must show us the forests. To invite people to sit under the shade of the hundreds of millions of trees it had planted. This is the ‘proof of life’ the people deserve to see.”

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