Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje has described the year 2011 as “a watershed year” for DENR’s legislative agenda on forestry following a commitment made by Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri to work for the passage of the Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) bill.

“With Senator Zubiri’s track record, there is a high degree of optimism at the DENR and among its partners that we can finally look forward to having a new forestry regime after years of subjecting the proposed law into 15 long years of legislative mill,” Paje said, noting Zubiri’s promise couldn’t have come at a better time than during the launching of the National Year of Forests (NYF). Zubiri, who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, was the keynote speaker at the NYF launch last week at the Makiling Botanic Gardens at the University of the Philippines at Los Baños, Laguna (UPLB), where he committed “to do his best” to have the Sustainable Forest Management bill sponsored within the year, and work for its passage into law by 2012.

The launch of the National Year of Forests in the country is based on Proclamation No. 125 issued by President Benigno S Aquino III last March 15, and in support of the declaration by the United Nations of the year 2011 as the International Year of Forests, with the theme: Forests for People.

“The President’s proclamation of this year as our Year of Forests is in keeping with our responsibility as member of the United Nations. As envisioned by the UN’s declaration of the International Year of Forests, we are taking this opportunity to undertake a national greening program that would engage the whole citizenry in bringing back the vegetative cover of our uplands, while providing them economic relief,” Paje said.

President Aquino has earlier issued Executive Order No. 23 which declared the implementation of the National Greening Program, which seeks to plant some 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million hectares nationwide until 2016. He also banned logging in natural forests through Executive Order No. 23. Aside from the SFM bill, Paje likewise commended Zubiri’s insistence on taking the proposed National Land Use Act (NLUA) to a higher level of engagement with his fellow lawmakers both in the House of Representatives and the Senate despite daunting task of taking a leadership position in a very sensitive piece of legislation which, according to Zubiri, is “a very far reaching and wide-encompassing measure.”

“I promise you today, I will try my very best to have it (NLUA bill) passed in the Senate. And I thank the President for making the NLUA bill a priority measure,” said Zubiri before a crowd of 3,000, who made a two-kilometer uphill trek from the main stadium ground of the University of the Philippines at Los Baños as a show of solidarity for the NYF year-long celebration.

Zubiri likewise unveiled his plan to push for the Senate approval of the proposed bill on Magna Carta for Environment Workers that will protect and promote the welfare of environment workers, including non-government workers, volunteers, cops, soldiers and even lawyers.

“I will guarantee you that I will do my best to have this bill approved in 2011 ‘para by 2012, meron na tayong batas na Magna Carta for Environment Workers,” Zubiri stressed.

Under Senate Bill 2550 or the “Magna Carta for Environment and Natural Resources Personnel,” protection and benefits shall be given to the personnel of DENR, its bureaus, regional officers, and attached agencies, environmental units in the other government agencies and the ecological waste management department of the local government units including forest rangers and park rangers.