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Friday, September 20, 2019
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Peña: Tree planting requirement for graduation

E-ssue

I READ it in my favorite environmental website. There is now a law requiring all graduating students from elementary school to college to plant 10 trees each before they can graduate. This story was picked up by some international news organizations. It also appeared in my FB wall several times.

Upon reading the details however, I found that it is not really a law but rather a bill approved by the House of Representatives. The bill is the "Graduation Legacy For the Environment Act." The proponents see this as an opportunity for the Filipino youth to help tackle climate change and build a greener environment for their generation.

Unfortunately, the 17th Congress adjourned without the bill becoming a law. The Senate must also pass a similar bill after which the two chambers will hold a bicameral conference to reconcile their versions. It is then submitted to the President for approval or veto. Unfortunately, the counterpart bill filed by Senator Trillanes on July 19, 2016 did not even hurdle the Committee level. It was stuck there since August 2016 per Senate records.

If the bill became a law, the authors estimated that over the course of one generation, around 525 billion trees will be planted. This comes from over 12 million students graduating from elementary school each year, 5 million from high school and 500,000 from college, equaling 175 million new trees planted each year.

The bill has to be refiled in the 18th Congress and go through the legislative process again. A check on the website of the House of Representatives yielded nothing. In the Senate, the bill was refiled by Senator Bong Revilla on July 22, 2019, the first session day.

Revilla's Senate Bill 668 is almost the same as the approved House bill except that it detailed the responsibilities of the Government agencies concerned. It did not include though a provision which gives preference to indigenous tree species.

Actually, this proposed bill is not new. When I was in college in the mid 80's, tree planting was a requirement for graduation. In my college transcript of records, it was explicitly stated there that I passed all requirements and participated in tree planting. The basis is President Marcos' PD 1153 issued on June 06, 1977, requiring all able-bodied citizens of the Philippines who are at least 10 years old to plant one tree every month for five consecutive years.

Under PD1153, non-compliance will result in a fine of not more than one thousand pesos or, in appropriate cases, with disqualification to acquire or enjoy any privilege granted exclusively to citizens of the Philippines. This includes a franchise to own or operate a public utility, disqualification to hold public office for five years, to graduate from any educational institution at all levels, to take any bar, board or civil service examination, and to practice any profession licensed and regulated by the Supreme Court or the Professional Regulation Commission. PD 1153 was repealed by President Cory Aquino's Executive Order 287.

For now, our hope is in the implementation of Republic Act 10176, or the Arbor Day Act of 2012. This law mandates all able-bodied citizens of the Philippines, who are at least 12 years of age, to plant one tree every year. Unfortunately, unlike PD 1153, there is no provision in the law and in the IRR to enforce and monitor compliance to this requirement. The law is toothless.


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