ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE PROGRAM: The Department of National Defense’ Contribution for the Future

Written by COL FEROZALDO PAUL T REGENCIA INF (GSC) PA, MWGI. Posted in Commanders Blog

“A quality environment is critical to maintaining economic growth and political stability while making use of existing management system such as: information systems, technology exchange and automation.”

When the first Earth Day celebration was held forty four (44) years ago on 22 April 1970, the US has since then, been developing their Defense Environmental Programs. This has considerably changed the outlook of the US military in terms of the environment, especially its effect to their existence and their underlying responsibilities. They were then compelled to devise ways and means in protecting this particular interest by coming up with viable policies and programs, trained and utilized full time environmental professionals and allocate billions of dollars yearly for this purpose.  Their vision was for a culture of a recalcitrant attitude towards the treatment of the environment to have a positive favorable acceptance of its benefits and the respective obligations it accompanies. This major change has simultaneously occurred in Canada and Australia, and for the past thirty (30) years the same things has transpired in NATO countries. The effects of this transformation have influence militaries of the countries in Central and Eastern Europe so with some countries of the Asia Pacific region from then on. While the Philippines deemed it not too late to start its own, that on 28 June 1999 the Department of National Defense launched its own version of the Environmental Defense Program coinciding with the Earth month celebration. Such was envisioned to follow-up the gains of the environmental initiatives and efforts of then Secretary of National Defense Hon Orlando Mercado have pushed since 1992 when he was part of the Philippine Senate.

To motivate for the awareness of the necessity and importance of an environmental consciousness internalized in the military system, and as a new venue for cooperation, the US with Canada and Australia set some basic principles of an Environmental Defense Program acceptable and doable for others to follow. This was presented on 27 October 1994 during the Trilateral on Environmental Security Cooperation among the countries mentioned. They laid down the following primary concerns for guidance in coming up with viable outputs in the furtherance of whatever objectives the Program may deal with. There should be a commitment on cooperation with civilian authorities, non-governmental organizations and the public; partnership with the private sector; openness and culture change in the entirety of the organization. This concept was drafted together with the idea that allied militaries can support each other referring to the recommended programs under the sixteen (16) Areas of Cooperation:

  1. Public Affairs
  2. Information Exchange
  3. Environmental Considerations in Weapons Systems
  4. Noise from Aircraft, Weapons and other Defense Sources
  5. Experiences in Environmental Policy and Legislative Development
  6. Environmental Impact Analysis
  7. Range Management
  8. Joint Activities
  9. Environmental Sound Ships/Marine Environmental Protection
  10. Budgeting and Investments Strategies for Environmental Protection
  11. Contaminated Site Cleanup
  12. Personnel Exchange and Training
  13. Management Strategies and Environmental Performance Indicators
  14. Security Aspects of Environmental Degradation
  15. Hazardous Materials Management and Disposal
  16. Coral Reefs

Significantly, the output of the program anticipates the prospects of benefiting a heightened environmental awareness, the knowledge and acceptance of the military’s capability and obligation in implementing environmental practices, enhancing the “bayanihan” concept in propagating and adhering to the needs of environmental protection and sustenance, and the recognition of the great importance of the alliance and cooperation between the military and other sector of society. This is the establishing of a foundation among different groups, who are involved in environmental concerns that are bonded with one desire, purpose and objective.

There have been so many unfortunate incidents in Philippine history that speaks of the carelessness and neglect of an organization towards the prevention and avoidance of the effects of disasters and providing protection for the people whose lives depended much on what capability and resources the same organization could have provided them. For example, on 24 March 1996, mine tailings of the Marcopper Mining Corporation (Marcopper) escaped into the Makulapnit and Boac Rivers on Marinduque Island. It caused the evacuation of 1,200 residents and seriously affected approximately 700 families from 5 villages by loss of most river crossings and road connections. Further, it inundated almost 10 hectares of cropland used for banana and other agricultural purposes and loss of aquatic life, productivity and beneficial use of the rivers for domestic and agricultural purposes.  Similarly during the flash floods in Ormoc City, Leyte on 05 November 1991 where at least 3,000 died and 50,000 more were displaced   and the other areas in the country that experience the same thereafter, though may be in smaller scales in terms of loses, but just the same painful experience most of the Filipinos wish should not have taken place. Much more because of the advent of global warming the trending of calamities that befall the country has caused more destruction like the passing of typhoons Frank, Pablo, Sendong, Santi and the devastating super typhoon Yolanda which gravely hit Visayas from the eastern part of the Philippines particularly in Samar and Leyte on 08 November 2013 that left more destruction and lives loss beyond our imagination. This is partly or wholly caused by massive deforestation, conversion of forest areas to agricultural plantation, too much carbon emissions from industries, transportations and households that deplete the ozone layer and the disregard for solving vis-à-vis averting environmental degradation. This subsequently have been the reasons why millions of lives, properties, agricultural products, and other resources have been wantonly lost for many years, and these are lessons learned that were simply taken for granted.

What about the diminishing supply of marine products and the ill effects experienced by the Filipinos, like the red and the green tides due to the destruction of coral reefs and the natural growth of other resources, because of dynamite and cyanide fishing, chemical waste from industrial sources, dumping of waste and other abuses of the sea’s potential.

With these issues, how then can the Defense Department be relevant as an initiator or a partner and as an assistant to other agencies in confronting environmental problems that threatened the security of the basic needs of the populace? The protection, the people should not be deprived of, during events they may not expect to be in, like forest fires and oil spills, opposing illegal logging and mining, the dumping of toxic waste, like those that were supposedly left behind by the Americans in Subic and Clark that cause so much misery to the residents of the area, the used and discharged of harmful chemicals from factories up to the households, problems and their auxiliaries from so many other pollution sources, dump sites, etc. These and many others of the same proportion and even of greater destructive effect are endangering the health, living condition, work performance, sustenance and the very existence of the Filipino people, especially the children who constitute the future of a nation. What could then be expected of them, if at their early age they have been mutilated to a level of abnormality just to conform to an abnormal environment? On the other hand there can be so much of an opportunity and things that the Department of National Defense and its bureaus considerably from the Armed Forces of the Philippines could contribute for the betterment of the country and its people, aside from its primary purpose, so much so in terms of preserving, conserving and protecting the environment as another significant factor in the pursuit of its defense mandate, for the young generations to benefit from.

A Collaborated Effort

As a matter of preference at this time the idea of an environmental undertaking to influence the outlook of the Filipino people for the betterment of his way of life as a benchmark was initiated way back in 1992 by then Senator Orlando Mercado who wanted to leave behind a legacy worth the simple and noble struggle he can share for a wholistic sense of security for future generations to come. Such endeavor is pursued for them who would look back with gratitude for our generation who were resolute in accomplishing the things we wanted to institute during our time.

       To continue further the hope of creating a conceivable action for the actualization of plans for environmental regeneration, there were so many bills passed by the Legislative, which eventually became laws to cater to these needs. Foremost of these is the AFP Modernization Law, which among others presents ample provisions or thrust on environmental defense. Secretary Mercado was then, also the principal author of a bill mandating a single comprehensive framework on land use to guide the government in utilizing our land’s physical characteristics to satisfy prospective priority concerns. It was at that time that the call for a total log ban ensued.

In 1998, the Clean Air Act was initiated for deliberations in the Philippine Senate. Unfortunately though, it was learned that there were those who blocked the passage of the bill during the final stages of the bicameral conference, which made it difficult for the idea to push through at that time. The Clean Air Act of 1998 was a pioneering legislation for the country, for it will then be the first to bar incinerators once approved. It also provides for any Filipino citizen’s right to sue air-polluting firms. This was finally enacted in 1999.

Objectives to Pursue

             There were times that individuals or groups tend to overextend its scope of responsibilities for a particular requirement to the point that in a general context their activities may seem to overlap that of other entities. Though looking at a more detailed perspective, there may be a lot of logical inference that merits its possible impinging into the work of another.  To that effect, instead of usurping the role of someone else, the program could either be complementary or supplementary to the other agency’s purpose. In certain consideration that the Environmental Defense Program would like to just concentrate its particular mission, objective, role and functions in the premise of providing a framework within the bounds and limitation dictated by the DND’s mandate.

In reference the Americans would like to present their program in a manner that it exclusively belong to the defense establishment with the following mission for emphasis, “it is to strengthen national security by integrating environmental safety and health considerations into defense policies”. Aptly stated, it supports the essence of our objective which says that the ENDP will spearhead the initiatives of the DND in addressing environmental concerns involving its Bureaus through integration, information and education activities. This comes by means of advocacy and promotion of environmental protection and sustainable development; compliance to environmental regulations and laws; the adoption of ecological waste management and other environment-friendly practices or measures; the use of renewable energy resources and pursuing pollution control measures and guidelines. Furthermore, in coordination with the DENR and NGOs, the ENDP will conduct scientific research and dissemination involving land and resource use, biodiversity classification and inventory, and other sustainable development practices.

In engaging ourselves with this endeavor the anticipation of future agreements with other countries that focuses aside from enhancing relationships and cooperation through environmental means, will also be a vehicle that will usher to us the technologies and strategies which foreign industries has developed and used to address environmental challenges, at the same time this will create for us a venue to introduce our own capability.

Communications, Awareness and Training

The country is continually besieged with so many threats that endanger the day to day living of the Filipinos. The most logical organization that handles this matter as their exclusive mandate is the National Defense Department, but it does not mean that they are merely tied up with the traditional defense requirements of confronting armed threats. It must go beyond the concept of just defending the country from aggressors and must include threats to the security of the people in terms of environmental terrorism, accidents and disasters, cross-border contamination and environmental factors affected by military activities.

The ENDP by itself have lined-up environmental-friendly activities that will make the military organization more receptive to the guidelines on the conservation and protection of the environment and its by-products. At the same time their presence and purpose would be more acceptable to the public. Though, even before this program was conceptualized the AFP has been very active in this particular endeavor. The soldiers since, are involve in recycling, reforestation, coral reef restoration, protection of animal sanctuaries and have undergone training in zero waste management, which clearly shows their commitment in the protection of our environment.

Personnel Awareness

For quite a while there has been an immense involvement of the military in an effort to raise the level of environmental awareness and responsibility to every individual member of the AFP.  These were in forms of dissemination, indoctrination, information drive and on the job performance to the merits of simply being environmentally conscious and committed.  The soldiers with the meager support entrusted to them by higher commands and those that they may have solicited from the NGOs and government agencies have engaged themselves in environmental practices and activities with the civilians. Thus, with this knowledge and experiences at hand, these personnel can be expected to share or exceed the level of environmental awareness and advocacy even to the general public, especially then that the ENDP have set the standards.

The effort exerted by the soldiers for whatever they do with respect to their environmental duties and the unconditional willingness to participate in this endeavor and initiatives is an indicator of the level of environmental concern. An effective measure to this is as simple as their cooperation in planting and nurturing trees, recycling and waste management, create a natural habitat for animals, using alternative source of electricity and energy conservation, are practical activities that they could handle and accomplished easily within their level. In addition to the internalization of the benefits sans the disadvantages, limits if not entirely eliminate the prospects of the number and nature of violations against environmental laws which ideally will not happen in consideration of the commitment that they enters and sworn to uphold. Because we are committed to a number of complex environmental objectives, it is critical that all personnel share both a basic environmental awareness and specific knowledge of their individual roles in environmental protection.

Commander’s Awareness

The questions for the leaders and managers of the organization should focus on three fields of interest: What do commanders need to know to protect the environment? What do commanders need to know about their own and their soldier’s responsibility and liability under an intensification of restrictive environmental laws? And, how do commanders act and react in their environs in the pursuit of the accomplishment of their missions?

We would like to inculcate among ourselves that protection of the environment is every individual’s responsibility; therefore it is but significant for us to be updated and abreast of developments in our surroundings. We always say, that to be effective in convincing and influencing others to do good we have to start from our own. Be a model for others to follow.

We also know that inculcating a formal program on awareness and training can be essential; to ensure the practice of due diligence in dealing with the requirements of environmental concerns. Because, without learning the do’s and dont’s, the advantages and disadvantages; we tend to be careless and neglectful of our duties and obligations. To be able to lead, we must be credible enough.  

In making sure that we will accomplish our mission, the tendency not to mind the possible destruction that military hardware could cause in the environment becomes a nagging problem that needs to be resolved.We have to be earnest in making sure that the environment must be considered when planning and undertaking every activity that we have to perform. Military actions needless to say, could cause havoc to the immediate surroundings, but this could be checked and avoided if we could be careful and knows our responsibilities.

A commander then should ensure that relevant environmental information is included in all types of training and activities. In all tasks, personnel should be made aware of practices that will preserve the environment and be an important participant to its existence. Likewise, involvement in external environment activities represents the minimum constant commitment required to increase environmental awareness. These efforts should be maintained year round to ensure that military personnel do not lose sight of the importance of protecting the environment.

Legislation, Policy and Legal Framework

         For the DND/AFP to be an important factor in the pursuit of a clean and green character it was then inevitable that the Secretary of National Defense, in one of his significant area of interest and concern, will include the Environmental Defense, hence the program to realize this was eventually pursued. Again, it is not for the DND to take away the responsibility of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to be the lead agency on environmental matters and involvement, but it is imperative for the DND to deal seriously the concerns on environmental issues in reference to the following mandates:

  1. The Constitution declares as a state principle that it “shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.”
  2. Under the Constitution the mandate of the Armed Forces of the Philippines is to be “the protector of the people and the State” and that “its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the state and the integrity of the national territory.”
  3. National Defense must go beyond the traditional concept of defending the country and its people from military threats. It should include defending the country and the people from all threats to their security, including threats to its environment, natural resources and patrimony.
  4. Under R.A 7898 or the AFP Modernization Law, providing for the Modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and for other purposes, it contains this broader concept of national defense. The objectives of the Program stated by Congress include the following:

 a.   “To develop its capability to assist civilian agencies in the preservation of the national              patrimony, including the country’s living and non-living marine, submarine, mineral, forest and          other   natural resources located within its territory and its exclusive economic zone (EEZ);

           b.    “To enhance its capability to fulfill its mandate to protect the Filipino people not only from armed threats but from the ill-effects of life threatening and destructive consequences of natural and man-made disasters and calamities . . . and from all forms of ecological damage.”

 In particular, pollution in the country especially the metropolis, have been a problem that need to be mitigated if not entirely solved. In 23 June 1999 the Republic Act No. 8749 or the Philippine Clean Air Law, providing for a comprehensive air pollution control policy and for other purposes was passed. Slowly but surely we may be able to attain the provisions set by this law in this generation.

The DND through the ENDP is expected to coordinate with and assist the following government agencies for its purpose and objectives: Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR), the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), the Department of Health (DOH), the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), the Department of Trade and Industries (DTI), the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Department of Tourism (DOT), the Department of Science and Technology (DOST)  and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) all in matters of the enforcement of laws and regulations for environmental protection.

Community Relations

For the military, as part of their Civil-Military Operations, an environmental program will not be complete and cannot be effective without a competent community relations program at hand. There is no question that handling specific hostile issues that surround environmental matters especially in populated areas is an element that affects community relations. Therefore, it is important that there will be a constant effort to make a positive public image of our commitment to environmental protection. An open and honest appeal is the key to an effective communications program. To be certain in impressing that the National Defense has made strong commitments and taken strong action to protect the environment and this message can and should be communicated to the general public. In as much as we also involve the people in our projects and activities, for them to feel the importance of what we are undertaking and give the acceptance due us.

In recent years, DND has increased its participation in the environment consciousness and other earth day related celebrations. The activities engaged in are designed to enhance awareness of environmental concerns at all levels of the Department and the AFP. They also provide an opportunity for DND/AFP to showcase success stories to the public. Participation by the general public in these activities provides a good opportunity for positive community relations.

Recognition and Reward

In the AFP, and knowing the psychology of the Filipino soldier’s characteristic there could be an increase in our environmental commitment and accomplishments by implementing a system to recognize the environmental achievements of individuals performing specific duties prescribed by the command. This could either be given informally or through an environmental incentive award program. Often, extremely innovative, successful environmental initiatives demonstrate the results of outstanding effort. These qualities deserve recognition and possible adoption across the DND/AFP.

Another way of promoting and recognizing environmental initiatives is through friendly competition between units, such as comparing the success and usefulness of recycling programs. At the very least, the results of environmental programs should be made known to everyone, so that the participants can see the results of their cooperative efforts and be motivated to do more.

Through the ENDP, we hope to make environment activists out of the Filipino soldiers. They can become examples and advocates to the people in their areas of assignment. In their transformation to be the “Sundalo para sa Kalikasan”, the soldiers must be given the correct direction and the right incentives for them to be able to serve their purposewell in this particular endeavor. It is then the thrust of the program for us to review the AFP’s awards system so that a soldier’s work in environment protection might be recognized as deserving of a medal, if not worthy of a promotion.


It is then for the policy makers to present a precise and reasonable measures, that can be well understood by personnel, that will eventually lead them to voluntary and committed participation. Above all this program can be a helpful reminder of our legal and moral obligation to ensure that environmental protection and due diligence are practice at all levels of the organization.

During the last few years back, there has been a remarkable shift in attitudes towards the environment - the government and citizens alike finally recognized the threat posed by continuing environmental deterioration. Given the size, environmental diversity and sensitivity of the Defense’s reservations and the range of activities, which by their nature have the potential to do significant damage, environmental management became an integral component of the Defense affairs.

In the advent of the Environmental Defense Program, the DND is committing its available human and material resources from all of its subordinate Bureaus, in the all-out fight against natural and man-made threats to our environment and natural resources that further threaten the over-all security of the population. With the help of the DENR, the DOJ, the other pertinent government agencies, NGOs and LGUs, it is the hope of the organization and the people who are responsible for its existence, that the Department of National Defense can become an important pillar in the enforcement of environmental laws and advocating positive environmental concerns.



  • The Commander’s Guide on Environmental Protection, Canada, J.L. Adams, Assistant Deputy Minister, Infrastructure and Environment, 1994
  • Code of Environmental Stewardship of the Canadian Forces and their Department of National Defense (poster), 1994
  • Environmental Guidelines for the Military Sector, A Joint Sweden & United States Project Sponsored by the NATO Committee on the Challenges of Modern Society, June 1996
  • Notes/Information Kit from the 1996 Asia-Pacific Defense Environmental Conference, Honolulu, Hawaii, 9-13 September 1996
  • MOA among the DND, DENR and DILG, 1998
  • MOA with “Linis Ganda”, 1999
  • MOU with the NGOs, 1999
  • A Proposal for an Environmental Defense Program, Hon. Ruben C. Carranza,   Assistant Secretary for Plans and Programs, DND, 1999
  • Our Role in the Defense of the Environment, Secretary Orlando S. Mercado, DND, Keynote address at the launching of the ENDP and signing of DND-NGOs MOU, 28 June 1999, Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City
  • Republished from similar article written by the author in 2000 with updated inputs.
  • Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda,, 2013

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