NEGROS Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. dared local leaders in the province to exercise "political will" to avoid further destruction of Negros's remaining forest.

The governor made the statement in Friday's formal turnover of the P26-million grant by the European Union (EU) to the Provincial Government for the protection of forests and aquatic resources in Negros Occidental.

Marañon and Dr. Herwig Meyer, senior program adviser of the German Technical Cooperation, signed the memorandum of agreement (MOA) Friday with the local government units (LGUs) and beneficiaries of the projects funded under the EU grant.

The grant was for the "Effective Natural Resources Governance through Inter-LGU Alliances in the Province of Negros Occidental."

Marañon thanked the EU for the "timely" assistance and stressed the alarming reduction of forest cover in the province that has gone down from 80,000 hectares to only 20,000 hectares in less than 50 years.

He said failure to act immediately may result to further environmental degradation that will also affect the province's water supply, citing the case of San Enrique town, which has to rely on another nearby municipality for its water source because San Enrique has no more forest cover.

He said the assistance will help a lot in the preservation of the forests and coastal resources. Marañon vowed to spend the money judiciously and ensure the sustainability of the projects.

Meyer, on the other hand, said it is vital to start right in the implementation of the project. He also urged the local government officials to put to good use the funds in protecting the environment.

Addressing the mayors whose towns and cities are covered by the grant, Marañon said, "Let's set aside politics. I urge all the mayors to make a stand in the protection of our natural resources. It needs political will to reverse the situation."

Board Member Patrick Lacson, chairman of the Provincial Board committee on aquatic resources, lauded the EU, saying: "It is heart-warming to note that people from thousands of miles away would care and do their share for the protection of our environment."

Mayor Agustin Bascon of Himamaylan City, one of the 27 beneficiary-LGUs, said: "We pledge to continue to work for sustainable development because we strongly believe that we do not inherit the environment from our ancestors but merely borrowed it from our future generations."

The P26-million grant will be used largely to empower five alliances of LGUs and their constituents in protecting the forest and aquatic resources of the province through legislative agenda. The alliances that will receive assistance through the project are the tie-ups with the Northern Negros Aquatic Resources Management and Advisory Council, the Central Negros Council for Coastal Resources and Development, which covers the LGUs from Bago to Binalbagan; Kabankalan, Himamaylan, Ilog-Integrated Coastal Management Council; and Southern Negros Coastal Development Council, which comprises the towns of Cauayan and Hinoba-an along with Sipalay City.

The P26-million grant includes the P3.9 million counterpart of the Provincial Government and will be implemented in the next two years. (TED)