QUEZON CITY – Over four million seedlings were planted in critical watersheds and 9,509 hectares reforested through the Annual Million Trees Challenge (AMTC), the group initiated by the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) with partners reported.

In its 2020 report, the AMTC stated that a total of 4,021,626 seedlings were planted from 2017-2020 in the Ipo-Angat Dams area (2,265,483), La Mesa (777,505), Laguna de Bay (222,096), Kaliwa-Umiray (60,473), Upper Marikina watershed (552,165), and Manila Bay (143,904).

For three consecutive years since its launch in February 2017, AMTC targets were surpassed, according to the report.

In 2017, the number of seedlings planted totaled 1,337,800. This was followed by 1,027,467 in 2018; and 1,022,917 in 2019. However, the number declined in 2020 because of the pandemic that prompted several program partners to postpone tree-planting activities. Only 633,442 trees were planted for the year. Nevertheless, the cumulative number surpassed the four million target in four years.

Through the AMTC, a total of 9,509.375 hectares from 2017 to 2020 were reforested. At the Ipo-Angat watershed, reforested area was 5,035.19 hectares; La Mesa, 1,723.39; Laguna de Bay, 347.83; Kaliwa–Umiray, 150.84; Upper Marikina, 1,928.99; and Manila Bay, 323.135.

AMTC is a five-year watershed rehabilitation program spearheaded by the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS)–Corporate Office in partnership with various
organizations that include national government agencies, local government units, civil society groups, and the private sector. It aims to rehabilitate the seven critical watersheds — La Mesa, Ipo, Angat, Umiray, Laguna Lake, Upper Marikina and Kaliwa) supplying water to Metro Manila andparts of Rizal, Cavite and Bulacan.

The program was formally launched by then MWSS Administrator, now Chairman of the Board, retired Police Deputy Director General Reynaldo V. Velasco on February 18, 2017.

MWSS and its partners agreed on maintaining the health of the beneficiary watersheds by planting and nurturing at least one million trees annually.

MWSS saw the need to reforest these watersheds that have been denuded because of illegal activities such as timber poaching, kaingin, and land conversion. Wanton destruction of forest areas has adversely affected water quality in the watersheds.

Since its launch, the program has attracted 20 partner organizations. Among the program partners of MWSS are ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation, Inc.–Bantay
Kalikasan; Bambuhay Social Enterprise; Boy Scouts of the Philippines; DENR National Capital Region; DENR Region 3; DENR Region 4A; Gen. Nakar, Quezon LGU; JCI Senate Philippines; Laguna Lake Development Authority; Luzon Clean Water Development Corporation-San Miguel Corporation; Manila Water Company, Inc.; Maynilad Water Services, Inc.; Mga Anak ni Inang Daigdig; MWSS Regulatory Office; National Power Corporation; Phil. Waterworks Association (PWWA); Rotary Club District 3780; UP Beta Sigma; UP Mountaineers; and World Wide Fund for Nature–Philippines.

The AMTC supports the government’s National Greening Program and is aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The National Greening Program is a government priority program that provided for the planting of some 1.5 billion trees in about 1.5 billion hectares for a period of six (6) years from 2011 to 2016. Its coverage was expanded in 2015 and its implementation extended from 2016 to 2028. It also harmonized greening efforts of the private sector and civil society.

MWSS Chairman Velasco said the MWSS is resolute that the Challenge must continue despite the pandemic, stressing that the AMTC is not just about the simple planting of trees, but part of a huge and intertwined strategies and systematic planting and nurturing efforts among corporate partners and watershed communities.  “The threat of the virus must not obscure the successes of past efforts.  The more trees are planted, the more we can maintain the health of the environment, and achieve the vision of a water secure future.”

Last October, MWSS led the planting of some 8,000 narra trees at the Kaliwa watershed together with representatives from the Boy Scouts of the Philippines, DPWH and PNP Region 4A, Northern Builders Construction, community residents, and DENR who also provided the saplings.   Covid-19 health protocols were strictly observed as planters maintained physical distancing, enhanced protection via wearing masks, and cleaned and disinfected their tools at the start and end of the planting activity.

MWSS Chairman Reynaldo Velasco, who led the tree planting activity, said, “Coronavirus will eventually subside as a health threat, but the threat of climate change will not.  Reforestation mitigates climate change and should be continued as part of our new “normal.”