The environment and our economy


I recently watched on social media a video that showed a whale approaching the shore and refusing to go back into the water even if the people tried to push it away. Soon they realized that it was very sick and was dying. Out of pity, they shot the whale and examined it to see what ailed it. They found around 30 plastic bags in its belly, some of them huge ones. These bags were collected and placed on exhibit to increase awareness about ocean protection.

National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) Assistant Secretary for Regional Development Mercedita Sombilla recently emphasized the importance of “environmental health and ecological integrity” to the government’s bid for accelerated economic growth. She said, “Our environment and natural resources play a critical role in our country’s development. They support the performance of other sectors, like agriculture,
fisheries, industry and services. They also provide livelihood to resource-dependent communities.”

Indeed, if there will be no forests and marine life, then the country’s tourism, manufacturing, fisheries and agricultural industries, among other sectors, would slowly perish. It is good that the Duterte administration realizes this, but, for sure, more aggressive and significant projects will have to be undertaken.

June is Philippine Environment Month, and to celebrate it, Neda conducted a tree-planting event on June 16 in Rizal, Laguna, where around 900 guyabano and narra seedlings were planted. During that event, a few important issues were raised. First was the role of both private and public sectors in implementing strategies that are aligned with the administration’s Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022 “to rehabilitate degraded natural resources and to protect fragile ecosystems”.

This means that everyone should play a role in environment protection; do not wait for the government to do all the work. I am once again reminded of a worthwhile art project I recently viewed online. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, together with the British Council, launched the Pasig River Art for Urban Change project. International and local artists were tapped to paint murals on eight different pumping stations along the Pasig River to inspire Metro Manila residents to explore the river on the Pasig River Ferry to “appreciate the
river’s potential and be made aware of the challenges that affect its rehabilitation”.

To go back to Neda’s recommendations, the agency is also pushing for the “complete delineation of final forest limits”. This means that the extent of forestlands will be properly marked to allow for proper management. Sombilla explained that this should distinguish production zones from protection zones.

Finally, the economic agency is also recommending the acceleration and prioritization of the “rehabilitation of unproductive, denuded and degraded areas”. This accounts for an estimated 7.1 million hectares. Of course, to help these recommendations along, it is crucial to strengthen the country’s research and law enforcement on forest management.

It is quite obvious that progress is linked to the health of our environment. We can’t keep on talking about economic development while we ignore the pressing problems related to environment protection. There is also a sense of urgency—the sooner we address these issues, the better for everyone.

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