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Rough Cuts | Where are the trees, the forest and the budget?

Looking back some five years ago, the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) regional offices in the Philippines’ southern island joined forces and undertook a massive one-day tree planting activity. That was on September 26, 2014. The intention of the project was to re-green, if not to create a new forest in Mindanao.

According to statements jointly issued by the two government agencies right after the activity, it was supported by both the public and private sectors. Thus, the massive tree planting was able to mobilize some 122,186 volunteers. The statement also disclosed that 2,294,629 seedlings ranging from hardwood tree varieties to fruit bearing species were planted.  There were also 29 locations all over Mindanao that were planted with tree seedlings in that one-day event.

The figures were submitted by the project movers to the World Guinness Book of Records, and according to the then DENR Region XI executive director Joselin Marcus Fragada, he received a communication from Guinness advising the organizers that the project’s total number of seedlings planted made it to a world-breaking record which, until the entry of the TreeVolution from Mindanao, was held by India.
We readily congratulated the project organizers and all those who participated in the gargantuan effort.

Imagine how large an area would be home to second up to fourth growth forest when the trees grow to their adult years!

We set aside our doubt on the veracity of the total number of planted seedlings despite the fact that we have no idea if indeed the Guinness really validated the figure by counting each and every tree seedling planted.

What we were eagerly looking forward to during that time was the real greening of the areas reportedly planted, say after five or 10 years. We are very well aware that if seedlings planted five or ten years ago were taken care of by the community they can grow as tall as 20 to 25 feet tall by now.

The question we raised then was whether the DENR and the MinDA have the mechanism to engage the people in the community as well as the volunteers to really ensure that the planted seedlings can survive? It was our humble position based on our own experience as the top watch of a small reforestation project by an Aboitiz-owned company, that if such mechanism was not clearly established, a serious inventory to be conducted these days will reveal that the survival rate may not even reach 30 percent.

We learned from a DENR insider at that time that a budget of so much was set aside for the maintenance of the trees annually for the first three years. The question to be asked today is whether the budget was utilized to the maximum, or was the money used for the purpose it was intended?

Easily the DENR and the MinDA can provide the answer. That is, if the two agencies have documents – still or video, and testimonies — to vouch the veracity of what they have to report to the public what happened to that grandiose project.

Yes, after five years of that well-hyped Mindanao-wide massive tree-planting activity, can the DENR and MinDA bring any interested person or group to at least two or three – and better still five – planting sites where new forests are now slowly growing?

We hope we did not miss in our monitoring of significant government-initiated projects like the one undertaken by the DENR and MinDA. Five years had passed and we never heard or read a single report updating the public on the status of the tree seedlings planted.

Even right in the Davao Region where the DENR and MinDA have main offices, and without doubt also have several planting sites out of the 29 locations reported, we have not come across with printed or broadcast reports updating the public of the Mindanao-wide project.

There are a number of local newspapers and broadcast stations in every region in Mindanao. The two government agencies concerned sure know about that.

So, why cannot they invite reportorial teams soonest to visit some of the planting sites so documentations can be done to support whatever report that should be made on that massive tree planting project some five years ago?

Or, is there truth to some talks we got wind of that the massive tree planting initiated by the two government agencies and supposedly supported by both the public and private sectors had not gone beyond the planting activity?

So the questions now are, “Where have all the over 2 million planted seedlings gone? Where did the planting site maintenance budget go? The cash flew?
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