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The Daily Tribune

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Climate change at the DENR DIE HARD III Herman Tiu Laurel 02/05/2010

Friday, February 5, 2010

Climate change at the DENR

Herman Tiu Laurel

I haven’t attended a Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) press conference in ages. The politics of the last 10 years has prevented me from associating with any government institutions working under a regime I consider illegal. The coming elections and the corresponding shifts being experienced by the nation are bringing in winds of change; “climate change,” so to speak. One of these fresh winds blows in from the office of the DENR. The new secretary is an old colleague from our activist days of long ago, one of our juniors in the nation’s post-Marcos politics. On the day Mr. Eleazar Quinto, Eli, as friends call him, was sworn in as the new Environment chief, I communicated my congratulations and we immediately got off on a good start. We had lunch at a UP Bahay ng Alumni resto, the ROC, and there Eli explained his six-month program to bring DENR’s action plans to new heights.

Central to Secretary Eli’s “legacy” program, as he calls it, is the mobilization of the department’s 25,000 personnel nationwide to be “multipliers” of the agency’s environmental campaign. All DENR employees will practice sound and progressive environmental habits in the family, the community, and in the workplace. Eli brings in a whole new meaning to “wholistic” in his approach to environmental upgrading because, as he explained to me, it is not just about plants and trees but also about spiritual aesthetics, the arts, music, and social relations. In line with this, he is enhancing the DENR’s cultural orientation to uplift the appreciation of the power of the human spirit in lifting the Philippine natural and human environment. Secretary Eli is organizing the DENR chorale group and launching a nationwide environmental-musical event to climax in the Earth Day month of April.

Having worked as DENR undersecretary since 2007, Eli had learned the strengths and weaknesses of the staff and organization of his department. One of the first tasks he set for himself was to boost the effectiveness of the organization by assigning to the people to the roles that fit best. In any process of change, there is sure to be some discomfort and the DENR reorganization was no exception — the reason a petition to stop it was circulated by some personnel. Four hundred eighty-four middle managers from the DENR’s nationwide organization had no question with the order; only 10 signed the petition, of which eight had later accepted new postings. Ultimately, one of the oppositors raised the bogey of “politicalization,” but with Secretary Quinto’s record and the good legacy he wants to leave behind, that’s surely the last thing on his mind.

The special press conference headed by the DENR secretary focused on the crucial water supply situation that media have been reporting recently. Secretary Eli called on National Water Resources Board (NWRB) representative lawyer Nathaniel Santos to inform media that the water level at Angat is 1.5 meters below normal level. But mitigating measures have already been put in place, such as tapping tributary rivers between Angat and La Mesa Dam; reducing the non-revenue water of the water concessionaires; operating a new Putatan Treatment plant which can supply up to 50 million liters for Metro Manila’s 100-million liter daily needs; deploying 65 back-up mobile water well tankers to bring water from rivers to treatment plants; using backwash water and reducing pressure in distribution lines; to issuing a presidential order for government offices to reduce water use by 10 percent.

The NWRB and DENR are cushioning the effects of El Niño and the water reserves depleted during “Ondoy.” I suggested that the DENR promote the use of coco-based detergents for laundry that are safe for watering gardens versus toxic chemical-based ones. The average washing machine uses 55 gallons of water per load; if you multiply that by two million units in Metro Manila, just think of the enormous environmental, as well as, economic benefits. Aside from this, more subjects were discussed: The P500-million DENR Wildlife Center project in Quezon City designed to be convertible to an evacuation center for tens of thousands in case of earthquakes and the like; the Geo-Hazard Mapping (identifying flood- and earthquake-prone areas) that is 91 percent complete; plus, specific mining operations’ rule violation issues, among others. In all, the DENR secretary has the intelligence and the emotional and environmental quotient to run the department with cool and calm in these critical times.

On the other hand, the political climate of the country has gone for the worse: The Smartmatic-TIM election machines have been failing successive transmission tests; and with 5,000 jamming devices coming into the country, the prospect of a failure of election multiplies; Lacson flies the coop and Villar flies away from the rostrum when question time from his peers came; Pulse Asia pulls off an incredible statistical about face on the rising ratings of Estrada, just when it should be going even higher and giving Villar rising ratings just when it should be dragging him down with his Senate fumbles. All these teach us all to rely more on our own sense of the man-on-the-street’s pulse as against the surveys that are vulnerable at many levels. Good thing that the masa’s struggle is flying even higher as Erap goes barnstorming double time.

(Tune in to 1098AM, Sulo ng Pilipino, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.; Global News Network, Destiny Cable Channel 21, Talk News TV, Tuesday, 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on “Untangling RP-EU Tuna Fishing Lines”; also visit http://hermantiulaurel.blogspot.com)

(Reprinted with permission from Mr. Herman Tiu Laurel)

SourceThe Daily Tribune

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