LAST April 22, the world celebrated Earth Day with the theme “Protect our Species.” The focus for this year’s celebration is the protection of endangered species. The world is faced with unprecedented global destruction and rapid reduction of plant and wildlife populations which are directly linked to causes driven by human activity. These are climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, trafficking and poaching, unsustainable agriculture, pollution, pesticides and the introduction of foreign or non-native species.

Consider the following facts from Earth Day Network:

The number of animals living on the land has fallen by 40% since 1970.

Marine animal populations have also fallen by 40% overall.

Overall, 40 percent of the world’s 11,000 bird species are in decline.

Animal populations in freshwater ecosystems have plummeted by 75% since 1970.

Insect populations have declined by 75% in some places of the world

About a quarter of the world’s coral reefs have already been damaged beyond repair, and 75 percent of the world’s coral reefs are at risk from local and global stresses.

There is still hope. The rate of extinctions can still be slowed, and many of the declining, threatened and endangered species can still recover if there is a united global movement of all stakeholders.

This year’s theme is important to the Philippines because the country is considered a mega-diversity country when it comes to variety of ecosystems, species and genetic resources. Our country hosts more than 52,177 described species of which more than half is found nowhere else in the world. We have a very rich biodiversity that even in the polluted waters of Manila bay, a new species of sardines, named Sardinella pacifica, was recently discovered. On a per unit area basis, the Philippines probably harbors more diversity of life than any other country on the planet.

Sadly, the Philippines is also considered a biodiversity hotspot. Among the animal species in the Philippines, 27 are critically endangered, 118 are endangered and 84 are vulnerable. The well known among these endangered fauna is the Philippine Eagle with only about 500 left in the wild. Among the plant species, 179 are critically endangered, 254 are endangered and 406 are vulnerable. I got these figures from the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the DENR.

The Balacat tree where Mabalacat City got its name is classified as vulnerable. This is why I started conservation and propagation program in 2007 with the help of the DENR-Region 3. I used to have my own Balacat tree nursery and I give away seedlings for free. Today, many Balacat trees are planted in all public schools and barangays of Mabalacat City. The Balacat tree was also declared as City Tree in the Environmental Code of Mabalacat City which I authored in the City Council.

By the way, in the Philippines, Earth Day it is not just a one day event. April is recognized as “The Month of Planet Earth” by virtue of Proclamation No. 1482 signed on April 10, 2008 by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

This year’s Earth Day is unforgettable. Mother Earth shook, as if trembling from the wounds we have inflicted on her. Sad day for Pampanga...