Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has assured the public that the government – through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) – would not slow down on its efforts to fight climate change even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Climate change is a reality that will continually grip us if we do not take action,” Cimatu said in his speech delivered by Undersecretary for Attached Agencies and Chief of Staff Rodolfo C. Garcia during a web event to raise awareness for peatlands conservation held last Nov. 6.

The event, launched by the DENR and telecommunications giant PLDT Inc. and its wireless unit Smart Communications Inc., featured the Caimpugan Peatland in the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary (AMWS) as the pilot site for the conservation program of peatlands in the country.

Cimatu said the DENR is further committed to address climate change and reverse its impacts through the Program for Environment and Natural Resources for Restoration, Rehabilitation, and Development.

“Protecting the country’s peatlands is a solid step that the Department is taking to help reverse the impacts of climate change,” Cimatu said during the event, which also served as a kickoff for the celebration of the Climate Change Consciousness Week this month.

At the same time, Cimatu renewed his call for greater cooperation between the public and private sectors in the management and preservation of the environment, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This landmark partnership with PLDT-Smart reinforces the call for the public and private sectors to work together to realize aspirations especially for the environment,” Cimatu said.

Cimatu welcomed the partnership as “the start of more long-term partnerships in protecting our peatlands and our wetland resources.”

The DENR chief thanked PLDT-Smart and its chairman, president and CEO Manny V. Pangilinan for “leading the private sector to engage with us in peatland conservation.”

For his part, Pangilinan assured that PLDT and Smart will be leveraging in digital technology and its networks to protect the mangroves and rainforests.

“It is our responsibility as our business works to make our marketing and merchandising materials more eco-friendly, shifting away from plastics, moving to recyclable materials, and reducing our carbon footprint,” Pangilinan said.

Cimatu, meanwhile, said the COVID-19 pandemic won’t prevent the DENR from pursuing its mandate and attaining one of the Ambisyon 2040 goals of having an “efficiently managed natural resources and environment.”

The AMWS is globally recognized as a Wetland of International Importance, also known as Ramsar Site, and is an ASEAN Heritage Park.

In a video message, Ramsar Secretary General Matha Rojas-Urrego, described peatland as the “most effective carbon stock on the planet and thus the most potent nature-based solution to mitigate and adapt to climate change.”

A pioneering program for wetlands conservation in the Philippines, the DENR and PLDT Group seek to protect, conserve and restore the Caimpugan Peatland.

Located in Agusan del Sur, the Caimpugan Peatland holds the only recorded remaining intact peat swamp forest—the largest of its kind—in the Philippines.

While peatlands are not much known to many, they have a lot of unrecognized benefits such as when they act like a foam that absorbs water, and store vast amount of underground carbon.

A proof of this is the Caimpugan Peatland that serves as a reservoir for 22.9 million tons of carbon. This peatland also holds the only recorded remaining intact peat swamp forest—the largest of its kind—in the Philippines.

The three-year extendable project, to be implemented by PLDT-Smart through its Chief Management Office and other concerned DENR offices, will focus on peatland conservation and management strategies under the AMWS Management Plan.

Under the project, PLDT and Smart will support the peatlands conservation and management strategies under the AMWS Management Plan by equipping the Bantay Danao volunteers with digital and communication tools, such as radio devices, mobile phones, and drone equipment to support them in their enforcement activities.

The volunteers are from the Bantay Danao Conservation Group, which was formed in 2017. They were deputized by DENR- CARAGA to protect the AMWS.

The DENR, on the other hand, will be providing technical assistance to the conservation of peatlands in the area. #