Three million trees – wow!
OFF TANGENT - Aven Piramide (The Freeman) - September 26, 2019 - 12:00am

I should be amongst the happy persons to read the news report about the program of Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella to plant three million trees. It warms my heart to hear of such a great project. My exuberant feeling is founded on the fact that I have been doing this undertaking in the scale I can modestly afford during the last few years. In his announcement, the mayor has programmed planting one million trees in each year of his term! I am a little bit uncomfortable though with the period mentioned by the mayor for two realistic reasons. Firstly, three months of his administration have already gone by and given our kind of bureaucracy, it takes time, few months at the fastest, to start any government program such that it might really be December yet when we commence planting. By then, six months into the mayor’s three-year term have lapsed. Secondly, we have observed that our political season always starts five months before election day. By that reckoning, the May 2022 elections will have started in December 2021. Anyway, if the mayor says he will carry on the program for three years, then so be it.

Planting three million trees is surely a gargantuan task but it is not an impossible thing to do. Let us factor in the number of people in the government. Here is my most conservative breakdown. City hall alone has approximately six thousand employees. Our taxes are used to pay their salary. In each of the eighty barangays there are BHW’s, BSPO’s, tanods and Lupons estimated to compose forty warm bodies or about a total of more than three thousand. They too, receive compensation from public funds. Roughly ten thousand of them can be marshalled and organized into massive tree planting activities. We have seen that this can be accomplished. We already witnessed two Saturdays of cleaning activities spearheaded by the mayor. In obedience to his Executive Order, a combined workforce of about ten thousand descended upon our rivers and other waterways to collect garbage. The same number of government workers can be organized to plant trees once every two months with each of them given a quota of at least five trees per outing. Six times in one year, all persons salaried by city and barangay funds can plant about three hundred thousand trees. This is some thirty percent of the yearly target.

There are enormous administrative challenges Mayor Labella is facing. While still generating the seedlings to be planted, he has to identify the areas to green. Where in the urban center will the trees be planted? Is it along what streets to prioritize?  These places must be designated and once identified; the excavation work can be started. The kind of tree planting activity to do, if success is really more intended than mere publicity, is not of the superficial way we see now and then. Wide and deep holes have to be dug and the debris taken away to minimize hazardous impediment to pedestrian traffic. Fertilized soil should be poured unto the holes before the seedlings are planted. More importantly, the plants need be attended to, cared for and nurtured laboriously for the entire term of the mayor to ensure a high survival rate.

The process of site selection, hole excavation and fertilization and caring of planted young trees in the urban center have to be replicated, on a much wider scale, in the upland areas. This necessitates the employment of sufficient, dedicated and knowledgeable manpower, adequate equipment and materiel and of course, reasonable funding which, I am certain, the mayor is very much aware of. His control of the city council will come in handy.

What we have so far said takes care of only thirty percent of the goal. Upon whose responsibility will planting the seven hundred thousand trees annually fall? The remaining seventy percent needs the deployment of the rest of the civilian population. To achieve this objective, an ordinance has to be approved. The mayor’s allies in the sanggunian will just have to do their role. Who the landowners are to be covered in this program, where and what species are ideal to be produced, who and how will the monitoring be done? These and many other related questions are to be woven into the ordinance as soon as possible.

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