LAST Friday (July 2), Dr. Ramon JP Paje took over the helm of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) from Secretary Horacio Ramos. The two are the only career men in the department's 23-year history who started as rank and file employees and rose to the top.

The new secretary is a top rank Career Executive Service Officer and was the agency's undersecretary for Field Operations before his appointment. He started in 1982 as a junior forester conducting field inspection of reforestation projects of then Bureau of Forest Development (now Forest Management Bureau). He has then occupied various positions such as senior forester, service director, and assistant secretary prior to his appointment as undersecretary in 1998.

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Sec. Paje finished his BS Forestry degree in 1982 at the UP Los Baños, earned his masters in Urban and Regional Planning from UP-Diliman and his doctorate in Public Administration in the same school. He was cited by the Philippine Jaycees as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men in 1996 and was conferred the Dr. Jose Rizal Huwarang Pilipino Award for Public Service in 1999.

Being an insider, Sec. Paje immediately hit the ground running. He landed in the news when he declared that violators of illegal dumping of garbage and other violations of environmental laws will be required to do community service in the form of cleaning esteros.

In his first speech as Secretary, he bared his six major programs: clean air and water especially in Metro Manila and in other urban centers; land productivity; enhancement of forest and marine resources with the completion of the delineation of forestline boundaries; an honest-to-goodness climate change mitigation, adaptation and anticipation program; and well-defined and effective anti-corruption measures.

Not everyone though is happy with Sec. Paje's appointment. Some environmental groups dislike him because of his mining-related assignments. Sec. Paje served as executive director of Minerals Development Council (MDC), the State's agency that is responsible for finding potential investors for the mining sector, in addition to his assignment as environment undersecretary.

According to Clemente Bautista, Jr. of the Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment (KPNE), Sec. Paje was the one who had facilitated the selling and privatization of state-owned mineral facilities and public lands in the country, including Mt. Diwalwal in Compostela Valley, in the province of Davao del Norte.

The apprehension of some sectors is understandable. But I guess we need to give the new Secretary a chance to prove his worth.