Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje today said the DENR shall lead in the implementation of activities relative to the observance of the National Decade on Biodiversity.

This, after President Benigno S. Aquino III issued Presidential Proclamation No. 178 which declared the years 2011 to 2020 as the National Decade on Biodiversity in the Philippines.

Under the order, Pres. Aquino enjoined all branches and agencies of the government, including government-owned and controlled corporations, local government units, and state universities and colleges to initiate activities to promote biodiversity conservation, in cooperation with the private sector, community organizations and non-government organizations.

At the same time, the President also mandated the DENR to coordinate the Biodiversity Decade’s activities, and to establish a national task force to plan and implement the activities and submit annual reports to the Office of the President.

A copy of Presidential Proclamation (PP) No. 178 was presented by Paje to United Nations Assistant Secretary General and Executive Secretary to the Convention on Biological Diversity Dr. Ahmed Djoghlaf during the recent launching of the United Nations (UN) Decade on Biodiversity in Southeast Asia at the Malacañang Palace. The event was witnessed by President Aquino, ASEAN Center for Biodiversity (ACB) Executive Director Rodrigo Fuentes as well as representatives from media, conservation organizations, the business community, and the diplomatic corps from the ASEAN region.

The Philippine proclamation is consistent with the United Nations’ declaration of 2011-2020 as the Decade on Biodiversity, a response of the UN General Assembly to a recommendation made during the tenth meeting of the Conference of Parties to the CBD in Nagoya, Japan on October last year. It promotes the implementation of the Biodiversity Strategic Plan 2011-2020 to focus on addressing underlying causes of biodiversity loss, including patterns of production and consumption.

Paje said that the proclamation “proves the seriousness of the Philippines in its commitments to the international community, as well as the utmost and unfailing personal support of President Aquino in arresting biodiversity loss through government’s concerted efforts.”

PP No. 178 directs government agencies in all branches to cooperate with community and non-government organizations to initiate activities to promote the Decade on Biodiversity in coordination with the DENR. It also calls for the establishment of a National Task Force to plan and implement the necessary activities, and submit reports regularly to the Office of the President.

In his speech delivered during the launching, President Aquino noted that the ASEAN Region is so rich in biodiversity, providing habitat to more than 18 per cent of all known plant, animal and marine species. Yet, these are threatened by those who “see the environment as nothing more than a means to make an easy and quick profit without regards for the long-term consequences.”

He said that his administration wants a collective will “to make life better, not only for Filipinos, but ultimately, for the citizens of the world… more importantly, for those who will come tomorrow.”

The President cited programs that his administration had initiated to preserve vulnerable species and habitats, saying that the proclamation was a way to “continue down the path of preserving biodiversity.” He recalled how he had “personally urged” neighboring ASEAN countries during the recent 18th ASEAN Summit in Indonesia to continue supporting the operations of the ACB, which the country hosts.

He also cited the DENR’s project launched recently to expand the country’s terrestrial protected areas with nine key biodiversity areas; the issuance of Executive Order No. 23, which calls for a total logging ban in natural and residual forests; and the National Greening Program, which aims to plant 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million hectares of land within six years.

Aquino also vowed to continue pursuing biodiversity conservation efforts in the region, such as the Coral Triangle Initiative, the Greater Mekong Program, the Heart of Borneo Initiative, and the ASEAN Heritage Parks.

To spearhead the government’s activities for the National Decade on Biodiversity, the President and Dr. Djoghlaf together unveiled a marker declaring a massive and shady balete tree fronting Malacañang Palace as a “heritage tree” under the DENR’s Heritage Tree Program. The balete or strangler fig tree was determined to be more than a hundred years old, thus standing as a “mute witness” to different events in the country’s history.

The President described the balete tree as a “fitting symbol” to the country’s commitment to the Decade on Biodiversity. “It will constantly remind us of our obligations, both as citizens of this country and stewards of this planet,” he said.