Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has received compliments for his commitment to protect the environment during President Rodrigo Roa Duterte's "Talk to the People" on August 26.

During the event, President Duterte also thanked Cimatu for his contribution to the country, particularly his efforts to rehabilitate Boracay Island and Manila Bay.

"In not so many words, talagang industrious ka. Typical of a military upbringing. Salamat sa contribution mo sa bayan natin," said the President.

"For so many years you had every chance to do it (clean up Manila Bay), was there anybody willing to take the problem by its horn? Si Cimatu lang, magpasalamat tayo," the President said as he addressed the critics of the "dolomite beach" in Manila Bay.

President Duterte also commended Cimatu for his eagerness to address the Manila Bay pollution.

In the meeting, Cimatu reported on the major programs of the DENR under the Duterte administration particularly the Boracay Island Rehabilitation, Manila Bay Rehabilitation, and the Task Force Build Back Better.

In 2018, President Duterte issued Executive Order (EO) No. 53 creating the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force and Proclamation No. 475 mandating the closure of Boracay for six months after the Chief Executive dubbed Boracay as a "cesspool."

Cimatu cited that after the Boracay rehabilitation, the water quality of Boracay was down to 50 most probable number/100 mL (mpn/100mL), making it fit for swimming and other contact recreation activities.

On October 26, 2018, Boracay was re-opened to the public, which according to Cimatu, strengthened tourism and generated employment.

The island also gained international recognition after its rehabilitation.

Conde Nast Traveller, recognized as one of the most distinguished and trusted authorities on lifestyle travel, named Boracay as "the best island in Asia" and one of the 30 best islands in the world for 2019.

After the Boracay rehabilitation, President Duterte issued Administrative Order No. 16 creating the Manila Bay Task Force in compliance with the Supreme Court mandamus to clean up, rehabilitate, and preserve Manila Bay, and restore and maintain its waters to SB level to make it fit for swimming, skin-diving, and other forms of contact recreation.

Cimatu said the water quality in Manila Baywalk area has improved to 7,000 most probable number per 100 milliliters (mpn/100 mL) in June 2021 from 5.75 million mpn/100 mL in 2019.

President Duterte emphasized that the task to clean up was "not an easy task," but Cimatu took charge.

"Gano’n karumi ang dagat when Secretary Cimatu embarked sa kanyang expedition to clean Manila Bay, it is not an easy task," the President pointed out.

Aside from the Manila Baywalk geo-engineering interventions and beach nourishment projects, Cimatu said the Manila Bay Task Force was able to partner with private entities to dredge rivers and esteros discharging into Manila Bay and construct a solar-powered sewage treatment plant.

The DENR also closed down non-compliant establishments and cleaned up the Baseco beach in Tondo, Manila. It also continues to address the relocation of informal settler families within the danger zones.

In the aftermath of the strong typhoons that hit the country in 2020, President Duterte issued EO 120 creating the Task Force Build Back Better (TF BBB) co-chaired by Cimatu and Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Mark Villar.

The task force was tasked to rehabilitate the hard-hit areas of Cagayan province, Marikina City, and Bicol Region.

Cimatu said that with the help of the DPWH, a total volume of 346,914 cubic meters was dredged from the major rivers of Cagayan.

So far, 32,836 bamboo seedlings were also planted covering 101 hectares for the stabilization of river banks.

Cimatu also cited the accomplishments in rehabilitating the Marikina River Basin where 67,425 cubic meters were dredged and a total of 8,652 fruit-bearing trees and bamboos were planted.

In Bicol River Basin, 33,872 cubic meters were dredged and 269,960 bamboo culms were planted.

The DENR chief also discussed the protection of forests to increase forest cover in the country and the planting of indigenous species in protected areas.

He added that TF BBB has provided biodiversity-friendly enterprises to communities and monitored threatened species.

Moreover, Cimatu highlighted that air quality in the country is within healthy and safe levels.

He added that DENR strengthened the Adopt-an-Estero/Water Body program to enforce the Clean Water Act, closed down all open dumpsites, and managed the healthcare waste.

On land management, Cimatu said that under the Duterte administration, patents are continuously granted to beneficiaries through the "Handog Titulo Program."

He also thanked President Duterte for the issuance of EO 130 as the mining industry is projected to help increase the fund source of the government.

On environmental law enforcement, Cimatu said the DENR is intensifying forest protection, anti-illegal logging operations, and enforcement against illegal wildlife trafficking despite the difficulty brought about by armed culprits.

Cimatu pointed out that the DENR's programs and projects are aligned with the President's priorities to build back better.

“Mr. President as you said… build back better, and for us build back better, build back greener, build back bluer for the water, and build back healthier," Cimatu said. ###