The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is seeking a slightly lower budget of P24.17 billion for 2019 to bankroll numerous environmental programs, mainly on forest rehabilitation and protection and biodiversity conservation.

The agency’s 2019 budget proposal, which is P740 million less than its current allocation of P25.72 billion, represents only 0.64 percent of the proposed P3.757 trillion national budget for next year.

Despite a lower budget, DENR Secretary Roy A. Cimatu assured that the agency will “still be able to effectively carry out its mandate of protecting the environment and rich natural resources in the country.”

“The DENR does not need a bigger budget to carry out its mandate. All we need is to be prudent and judicious in spending our budget and make sure that every single centavo is spent efficiently for programs promoting environmental protection,” Cimatu added.

The DENR is asking Congress almost P6 billion to finance the government's reforestation and forest protection projects for next year, with the Enhanced National Greening Program (ENGP) getting the lion’s share among DENR programs.

“The ENGP has the biggest chunk of the budget, followed by forest protection and anti-illegal logging, as well as our continued support for biodiversity conservation,” Cimatu told the House Committee on Appropriations during a budget hearing on Tuesday.

Of the total P5.96 billion allocated for reforestation and forest protection, P5.15 billion goes to ENGP, while P809.4 million will be used for the Forest Protection Program/Anti-Illegal Logging Program.

The twin programs aim to improve the nation’s forest cover and ensure continued protection of all existing forests in the country.

NGP started as a six-year massive forest rehabilitation program that aimed to cover 1.5 million hectares of degraded forestland with trees by the end of 2016. But it was extended until 2028 through an executive order issued in November 2015 in a bid to rehabilitate 7.1 million hectares more.

Under the E-NGP, the Duterte administration aims to reforest some 1.2 million hectares between 2017 to 2022 in accordance with the updated 2016-2028 Master Plan for Forestry Development.

For 2019, Cimatu said the DENR targets to cover some 143,187 hectares and produce 138.2 million planting materials.

In terms of accomplishments, around 193.05 million seedlings have been planted to 215,036 hectares from January in 2017 to June of this year with a total seedling production of some 317.9 million seedlings during the period.

From 2011 to June 30, 2018, the greening program has already rehabilitated a total of 1.87 million hectares with 1.56 billion seedlings planted. This has generated 4.3 million jobs, benefitting 614,128 individuals mostly residing in forest resources-dependent communities.

The reforestation program also serves as a national strategy to ensure food security, poverty reduction, environmental stability and biodiversity conservation. It is also a mechanism for climate change mitigation for it enhances the country's forest stock to absorb carbon dioxide.

The ENGP and forest protection initiative are among the 10 priority programs of the DENR, which have a total allocation of P8.88 billion or 36.73 percent of the agency’s 2019 budget proposal.

More than P732 million was allocated for the Enhanced Biodiversity Conservation Program, making it the third priority of the DENR in terms of budget allocation.

The other seven priorities of the DENR are solid waste management (P656.8 million); geohazard, groundwater assessment and responsible mining (P468 million); improved land administration and management (P398.9 million); scaling up of coastal and marine ecosystems (P267.7 million); clean air (P111.6 million); and Manila Bay cleanup (P80 million).

Under its proposed 2019 budget, the DENR allocates P4.08 billion for its line agencies, namely Environmental Management Bureau (P2.65 billion) and Mines and Geosciences Bureau (P1.43 billion).

The proposed allocation for the DENR’s four staff bureaus are as follows: Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (P364.4 million); Forest Management Bureau (P271.57 million); Land Management Bureau (P173.42 million); and Biodiversity Management Bureau (P292.77 million).

For its attached agencies, the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority, the National Water Resource Board and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development have a proposed allocation of P1.41 billion, P152 million and P127 million, respectively. ###