April 19, 1993

A Billion Trees

        Nobody is against planting trees; hence no one has objected to Speaker De Venecia's announcement that the House of Representatives will allocate P1.7 billion a year for three years for the planting of 1 billion trees. The Billion Trees Act of 1993, the speaker said, is part of President Ramos's Philippines 2000 action plan.
       Still we should look at what the speaker's plan entails.
        If the government is to distribute one-month-old tree seedlings for propagation all over the country, the Bureau of Plant Industry should grow and ship out house seedlings at the rate of about 30 million seedlings a month. If 12 seedlings can be grown on one square meter, the BPI will need a full 250 hectares of nursery space.
        And if we assume that during the month that a seedling is in the BPI nursery, that seedling will require only one minute of watering and care per day, this means that only 480 seedlings can be taken care of by one gardener during his regular eight-hour working day. If we talk of 30 million seedlings a month, the BPI would have to hire an additional 62,500 gardeners.
        But even if the BPI can produce the necessary seedlings, there is much larger problem of where the seedlings are to be planted. If trees are to be planted ten meters from one another, each tree will require an area of 100 square meters. Speaker De Venecia assumes that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources will be able to find 100 billion square meters of space or 10 million hectares.
        Now where is the DENR going to find 10 million hectares of free space? We may have lost millions of hectares of forest cover, but it does not mean that this land is free space. Part of this lost forestland has been converted to agricultural, residential, and other purposes.
        True, we can assume that part of the 10 million hectares will be private property and the owners will presumably be responsible for making sure that the seedlings grow to maturity. Still much of the 10 million hectares necessary will be public lands -- and the government will have to hire people to take care of these seedlings and to make sure that nobody cuts them down.
        And, to the extent that this land is former forestland that has been taken over by cogon and other weeds, it will be necessary to clear the land first and to make sure that the cogon does not come back. If we estimate 8 million hectares of public land, how many people will the government have to hire to clear the land and to take care of the seedlings?
        Speaker De Venecia says the House will allocate P1.7 billion a year for three years or a total of P5.1 billion, that is, a measly P5.10 per seedling  --  to grow it, determine where to send it, pack it, send it to its destination, and care and protect it as it grows to maturity. Apart from the direct costs, there are the administrative and management costs of running this logistic nightmare.
        Of course Speaker De Venecia is notorious for operating his mouth when his brain is not fully engaged. But what are his highly paid staff members for, if not to help him come up with rational plans or at least to keep him from putting his foot into his mouth? And what about Speaker De Venecia's colleagues in the House, whose votes he has committed to this impractical scheme?
        And what about those brilliant people in Malacanang who are supposed to head the committee that will pump-prime the economy? it is in support of their program that Speaker De Venecia has proposed his P5.10-per-tree project.
        If these bright people in Malacanang cannot see the unrealism of the speaker contribution to making the Philippines a newly industrialized country by the turn of the century, one can only worry about the realism of the rest of their plans.