The Senate on Tuesday night approved the proposed P28.67-billion budget for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for next year.

The DENR's 2017 budget, which is 31 percent higher than the agency's P21.8 billion allocation for the current year, was successfully sponsored and defended by Senate finance committee chair Sen. Loren Legarda, with environment and natural resources panel chief Sen. Cynthia Villar as the lone interpellator.

The increase is attributed to the agency's poverty alleviation programs that put priority to massive reforestation and climate change initiatives upon which the Duterte administration's thrust to promote inclusive and sustained economic growth hinges.

Earlier, DENR Secretary Gina Lopez said that a bigger budget would help the department fulfill its commitment to social justice through the implementation of environmental programs, notably the National Greening Program (NGP).

"Our main challenge is to raise the quality of life in communities that are the primary stakeholders and pursue measures that will optimize their growth potentials," Lopez said.

According to Lopez, the budget increase "mirrors the Duterte administration's push for social justice where majority of the Filipino people truly benefit from the country's natural resources."

The environment chief has been eyeing the NGP, the government's flagship reforestation program, as a tool to improve the lives of people living in poverty.

NGP is 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.

As of November 2016, the NGP has already created more than 3.29 million "green jobs," benefiting individuals hired as workers in producing almost 400 million seedlings.

For 2017, the DENR is asking Congress to allocate P9.4 billion for NGP's implementation. Lopez has vowed to make sure the NGP will continue to benefit the marginalized communities through ecotourism and agro-forestry development.

DENR programs such as the forest protection program was allocated P674 million; Integrated Natural Resources and Environmental Management Project, P966 million; Forestland Management Project, P1 billion; biodiversity conservation program, P763 million; coastal and marine rehabilitation project, P633 million; and the Manila Bay cleanup project, P80 million.

A total of P3.37 billion was earmarked for DENR's two line bureaus.

The Environmental Management Bureau will enjoy the bigger chunk of P2.2 billion to implement projects on solid waste management, clean air and clean water.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau is allocated P1.15 billion for its mining regulation services and geohazard assessment and mapping.

A total of P1.59 billion was earmarked for the DENR’s attached agencies.

The National Mapping Resource and Information Authority or NAMRIA has an allocation of P1.37 billion, P394 million of which will be used for the government's unified mapping project.

The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development is allocated with P92 million.

Some P129 million will go to the National Water Resource Board for the implementation of its two major projects: the Comprehensive Water Resources Assessment in Major River Basin and the Establishment of Monitoring Stations in Water Constrained Cities. ###