QUEZON CITY – One noble project considered as a legacy of President Rodrigo Duterte is the planting of million trees for the rehabilitation of seven critical watersheds of Metro Manila and nearby provinces.

The Million Trees Foundation (MTF) has been incorporated to ensure the continuity and sustainability of the Annual Million Trees Challenge (AMTC) spearheaded by retired police general Reynaldo Velasco, now chair of the board of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS).

Velasco cited the importance of the incorporation and registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission of the MTF to help sustain the five-year watershed rehabilitation program launched in February 2017.

AMTC will benefit critical watersheds namely Angat, Ipo, Kaliwa, La Mesa, Laguna Lake, Umiray, and Upper Marikina, including Manila Bay, through the planting of one million trees yearly.

It was in response to President Duterte’s socio-economic development agenda, the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022.

The AMTC program corresponds with the PDP focus areas on biodiversity conservation and ecosystem resilience through partnerships in rehabilitating critical watersheds and convergence/complementation of resources.

Until December 2020, a total of 4,021,626 seedlings have been planted in the watersheds while 9,509.375 hectares 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.

The River Basin Control Office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources also identified 142 critical watersheds.

MTF will network with international foundations and entities focused on watershed management and planting of trees. Inspired by success stories in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, it will utilize drones for tree-planting, especially at the Rizal/Wawa watershed, to fast-track tree-planting targets.

Million Trees Foundation is advocating for the planting of bamboos along river banks; and narra and ylang-ylang (Cananga odorata) trees in the other areas. It will also push for the massive planting of bamboos along riverbanks in Marikina and Laguna Lake.

Bamboos help absorb excess water, cut soil losses, and minimize soil erosion.

The foundation is not only concerned with tree-planting, reforestation and environmental sustainability.

“We also want to provide livelihood opportunities to people, particular those in the communities through our tree-planting advocacy,” Velasco said.

The livelihood projects include putting up a nursery for saplings to be planted in target areas, engaging local settlers to take care of the nursery and planted areas, developing wood carving home industries, and organizing small/marginalized farmers to be suppliers of ylang-ylang flowers to manufacturers.

Serving as Million Trees Foundation, Inc.  President and Executive Director is veteran author and publisher Melandrew T. Velasco, an advocate for tree-planting who conceptualized the  AMTC project for MWSS and was subsequently duly implemented by Chairman Velasco.

The MTF official was  publisher and editor of the Water & Environment Journal with the Philippine Water Works Association (PWWA), the umbrella organization of the country’s water supply industry, for over two decades. He is also an active member of JCI Senate Philippines and the Rotary International District 3780, two partner organizations of the AMTC project.

The Million Trees Foundation (MTFI) aims to preserve and restore the ecosystem functions of watersheds nationwide aside from the watershed beneficiaries of AMTC. The River Basin Control Office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has identified 142 critical watersheds in the Philippines.

The rehabilitation of the watersheds will be patterned after the La Mesa dam rehabilitation project. Its objectives also include the conduct of tree-planting activities; awareness campaign in support of the government’s reforestation program and CSR environment projects of private corporations; establishment of a data bank on statistics relevant to the foundation’s activities; and introduction of automation and modern-technology in tree-planting.

These objectives are to be pursued in partnership with the private sector, educational institutions people’s organizations, and government agencies to ensure nurturing of saplings and provide livelihood to residents of areas covered by the tree-planting activities.

The Foundation will also network with international foundations and entities focused on watershed management and planting of trees.

Planting bamboos along Marikina riverbanks supports reforestation projects that cover 600 hectares by Fr. Benigno Beltran’s Mga Anak ni Inang Daigdig group.

The drive to propagate narra trees nationwide in schools, expressways, and parks is very timely considering that the narra population in the country is declining.  Aside from their contribution to the ecosystem,  narra trees provide livelihood to many Filipinos: wood for furniture and other woodworks, beekeeping, traditional medicine and herbal supplement, charcoal briquette, pulp paper and ecotourism.

“We look forward to gain the support of DepEd, DENR, San Miguel Corporation,  MVP group of companies, Wawa JV and other corporations to grow more narra trees,”  Foundation Executive Director Melandrew Velasco said.

According to Velasco, the Foundation is also pushing for the propagation of ylang-ylang through the tree-planting activities. The ylang-ylang flower is source of essential oil used in soaps, shampoos, body oils, and perfume. He shared that in the 1800s, the country was a major supplier of essential oil for France and other perfume manufacturing countries. He cited Lingayen Mayor Leopoldo Bataoil as a true advocate of the benefits of the ylang-ylang tree.

The Foundation is not only concerned with tree-planting, reforestation and environmental sustainability. “We want to provide livelihood opportunities to people particular those in the communities through our tree-planting 
advocacy,” Velasco said.

These livelihood projects include putting up a nursery for saplings to be planted in target areas, engaging local settlers to take care of the nursery and planted areas, developing wood carving home industries, and organizing small/marginalized farmers to be suppliers of ylang-ylang flowers to manufacturers, among others.