Arbor Day in the Philippines

SunStar Peña
SunStar Peña

Last Tuesday, June 25, was Arbor Day or tree planting day, in the Philippines. This is by virtue of Proclamation No. 643 signed by President Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo on June 09, 2004. In addition to tree planting, the proclamation seeks to create awareness on the importance of trees in creating a healthy environment.

Arbor Day has been observed in the Philippines since 1947 when President Manuel Roxas set Arbor Day every second Saturday of September through Proclamation No. 30. In 1955, President Ramon Magsaysay declared an Arbor Week on the last full week of July through Proclamation No. 129. President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. moved and fixed Arbor Week from June 7 to 12 by virtue of Proclamation No. 1547 in 1976. President Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo brought back the one-day tree planting and declared June 25 as Arbor Day through Proclamation No. 396 in 2003. She later amended the Proclamation but retained the date.

Congress passed a law that made Arbor Day flexible. Republic Act No. 10176, or the Arbor Day Act of 2012, gave local government units (LGUs) the discretion to set their own Arbor Day in accordance with local conditions. The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) is responsible for receiving and monitoring the actual date of the Arbor Day Celebration from all LGUs. In Mabalacat City, Arbor Day was set every first Friday of July in the City Environmental Code ordinance that I authored.

RA 10176 has made tree planting mandatory. All able-bodied citizens of the Philippines who are at least twelve (12) years of age, are required to plant at least one tree every year. The law, or its implementing rules and regulations, did not provide for a mechanism to monitor compliance to this provision. It only tasked LGU’s to come up with a monitoring system. The law does not also have a penal provision. This is where LGU’s come in. They can pass ordinances to fill the gaps.

Today, the common concern for tree planting activities is the lack of planting sites. RA 10176 specified that tree planting activities shall be done in public school grounds, gardens or other available areas within the school premises, idle or vacant public lands, public parks in urban and rural areas and private schools, parks and lands with the consent of the owner. Most of these specified sites have limited available spaces.

The largest tree planting program is the National Greening Program (NGP) of the national government which is spearheaded by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Since the establishment of the program in 2011, the DENR said that it has planted more than 1.8 billion seedlings within 2.17 million hectares of land.

There are also private sector-led massive tree planting programs like the project of the Abacan River and Angeles Watershed Advocacy Council, Inc. (ARAW-ACI) led by businessman Renato “Abong” Tayag. They have partnered with the Angeles City government and private companies and groups to replant the 560-hectare watershed in Sapang Bato, Angeles City. Based on my last encounter with them, they are looking for more planting sites.

A famous quote said that if you want to leave a legacy, write a book, have a child and plant a tree. Not everyone can write a book or have a child, but all can plant a tree.

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