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The Enhancement of an Environmental Endeavor: The Future of the Environmental Defense Program

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

“Throughout the world, the management of environmental and heritage issues is becoming increasingly important to Defense organizations. Public (and legislative) interest in the environment demands that Defense organizations exercise responsible environmental stewardship, in order to prevent the loss of access to essential training areas, either because of environmental damage or because access is revoked by the relevant Government, often in response to public concern.”

The environmental program of the Department of National Defense was conceived when there was a need to upgrade, institutionalize and give importance to the environmental effort of the AFP and the other Bureaus of the Department. It was intended to be able to maximize their involvement in the safeguard and mitigation of environmental problems that is expected to emanate from their respective activities especially that of the military and those which may eventually affect the country as a whole. In essence the contributions of the AFP in environmental protection for decades, has for one is in dire need of a viable direction, supervision and concrete recognition. This is what the Environmental Defense Program (ENDP) would like to achieve from its inception to the continuing projects it would like to endeavor. The perception that to neglect and be oblivious of the consequences of military activities to the detriment of the environment may prove fatal and destructive to the country’s natural resources, the well-being of the people, their existence and the future of generations who will inherit this assumed seeming recklessness on our present times.

Social, Economic and Cultural Implications

The DND-AFP personnel have initiated and assisted in actualizing environmental concerns and programs nationwide of the other government agencies, NGOs and LGUs since the time that it became a necessity to advocate such undertakings from within the military organization: like involving in local hazardous material disposal, joint clean-ups of habitations and wildlife areas, instituting solid waste management programs especially in camps, and tree planting inside camps, within military reservations and in target barangays that need “reforestation”. This kind of cooperation makes the public be aware that the soldiers can also be good “corporate environmental citizens”. In furtherance of promoting these DND-AFP activities will likely achieve increased acceptance in the community of environmental advocates as a result of our manifested commitment to protecting the environment.

             Moreover, with the vast land area of military reservations a viable sustainable forest management was also emplaced like the mini (micro) forest projects of the AFP, which requires among others, that the developed plan was to protect present resources; mitigate against potential environmental impacts especially due to military (combat) activities; deal with squatters encroaching and trespassing into government lands, and restore any areas already damaged by previous years of neglect and wanton disregard for the balance of ecology. Noteworthy of these efforts is the establishment of a natural sanctuary program in the Molave area at Fort Magsaysay, NE where rare or endangered animal species, flora and fauna were identified, preserved and protected; the model of a solid waste management program initiated at the 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division, and the numerous micro forest projects nationwide in all military camps up to the company level.

In the concept paper presented by then Atty Ruben Carranza the Assistant Secretary for Plans and Programs of the DND before the launching of the Environmental Defense Program (ENDP) and further integrated in the signed MOU of the DND with the environmental NGOs in June of 1999, he laid down the guidelines among others on how the ENDP will go through its role, functions and responsibilities in relation to the NGOs and NGAs:

  • “The DND through the ENDP shall consult and cooperate with the NGOs and other government agencies particularly the DENR in identifying, monitoring and abating illegal activities destructive fishing, trade of banned pesticides, mining and extraction of mineral resources, destructive activities in environmentally-protected areas, including forests, mangroves and marine ecosystems, as well as the illegal transport, storage and disposal of the products of said activities. For this purpose, the NGOs may submit to DND identified environmentally critical areas in which DND assistance besides that of the DENR may be necessary for purposes of environmental protection.
  • Through the designated office or unit in the AFP, OCD or the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Plans and Programs, DND (where the ENDP is then under), the NGOs may provide and the DND shall receive reports of specific violations of environmental laws and regulations and environment related activities which may call for varying forms of military assistance, such as but not limited to communication, transport, reconnaissance or security, as may be recommended.
  • The DND, through the AFP shall include in its regular plans the conduct of aerial and maritime reconnaissance over designated environmentally critical areas for aerial photography and remote sensing. 
  • The NGOs shall likewise provide other technical support to the DND (ENDP)-AFP, such as but not limited to scientific and evidentiary assistance, whenever the AFP is called upon to assist in or conduct environmental law-enforcement operations, and in training (these activities were initially done during the inter-agency environmental workshop at the Pag-asa Island, Kalayaan Island Groups in the Spratlys attended among others by the then SND himself, the various solid waste management seminars done in all bureaus-agencies under DND, the exploration of alternative source of energy, the environmental audits, and the forest management and toxic waste management seminars).”

                These became the premise of what the objectives of the ENDP would be in developing the capability of the DND-AFP bureaus and units specifically in forest and toxic waste management. Designating as its primary objective of advocating and carrying out projects to increase forest cover on highly affected military reservations and the secondary objective in controlling toxic waste levels in highly affected camps.

        Why forest management? It was researched and studied by the DENR that of the 153 military reservations throughout the Philippines, covering a total of 150,869.87 hectares, 86% or 130,330 hectares of the land area is supposed to be forest lands prone to destruction, abused and needs immediate protection. It was estimated in the study conducted in 1996 that 2/3 of the 86% or 87,321 hectares are already denuded due to massive deforestation and other man made exploitation (like the slash and burn activities of would be farmers who have illegally encroached in the area). It was estimated then that deforestation in the Philippines was pegged at 87,556 hectares per year or at a rate of 1.49%. These findings have made the country as one of the top 10 in the world as a hot spot for tropical forest destruction. We know for a fact that this degradation has been responsible in one way or another for the increase in the incidence of flooding, droughts, massive erosion, siltation of rivers, and coral reefs and ground water depletion. In reference then to the seeming disregard of the military reservation’s forest cover, it behooves upon the DND’s mandate in general and the ENDP’s intent in particular to preserve the balance of ecology and the development of those areas of concern. In essence, these efforts will assure the protection of watersheds and source of food and water supply to most if not all places within the DND-AFP’s area of responsibilities and interests; protects the Real Estates of the DND-AFP against squatting, illegal logging and illegal mining; and further in its entirety will contribute to the government’s priority thrusts on food security and economic development, and correspondingly the protection of cultural heritage land areas, national parks and ancestral domains.

                Why toxic waste management? Of the four (4) representative defense and military installations that underwent environmental audit in the year 2000 and three (3) camps in 2003 all situated in Luzon, indications of toxic level from toxic and hazardous waste like asbestos, mercury and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) have been found which poses direct threat to the soldier and their dependents well being and subsequently to the contiguous areas and the community’s health and resources. We may recall the persistent nagging problem of toxic waste supposedly left by the Americans at Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base. As aptly stated by Von Hernandez the Chairperson of the People’s Task Force for Bases Cleanup that “The heartbreaking stories of babies and people suffering from leukemia, mental disorders, weakened immune systems and various learning disabilities within and around the former bases represent an enduring legacy of toxic transgressions whose foremost and vulnerable victims are children. While the victim communities wait for responsible action from the U.S. as well as their own government, the miasma of poisons left behind by the American military will keep on wreaking the damage.” It is in this light that we are doubling-up our time and effort to move toward realizing a better environment friendly camps and practices of our own, learning from the supposed “bitter” lessons from Clark and Subic. What the DND-AFP would intent to achieve even with meager resources is to eventually, in the long term, reduce if not entirely eliminate the potentials for accidents, occupational and health hazards; and lessen the amount of air, water and land pollution within and around our camps and the underlying communities, thereby improving the people’s living condition, health and economic well being. As such it is incumbent in us to be wary and active in our responsibilities of looking after our natural resources for future generation’s use and for our culture and social upbringing to flourish in better ways than one.  Further, in being able to clean our own “backyard” will give us the credibility of pursuing our environmental effort even beyond our own jurisdiction.

Threats, Opportunities and Thrust

                In the advent of present environmental concerns, the immediate interest of most countries is the imminent realization of an environment problem of catastrophic proportion. Such will invariably affect any country’s economic growth that stems from what effects environmental problems have to the security of a nation. Putting these environmental security threats in a strata for reference within the military viewpoint in a global perspective would include climate change, loss of biodiversity that endanger sources of human provisions, ozone depletion, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and environmental effects of demilitarization with emphasis on the military bases and what is holed in those places that the military leaves behind. Further in reference to regional environmental threats that the military could very much be a contributory component, includes among others environmental terrorism, man-made and natural disasters and accidents, cross-border contamination and environmental factors affected by military access to air, land and water. On the national level environmental threats may further include the inefficient use of the Defense and Armed Forces resources or war materiel and the erosion of public trust which bespeaks of the uncooperativeness of communities to any environmental programs initiated by the military, as well as the latter’s activities and past practices that leads to contamination similar to what have already been experienced that we still have not learned our lessons well from. Consequently, in a minuscule scrutiny of what is actually happening especially in remote areas of the country where the military could play a vital role, the destructive and inequitable exploitation of our environment and natural resources has simply led to scarcity, deprivation and mass poverty. This in turn and is as indisputable, are among the roots of conflict and violence in our society and which hinder the economic development of our country as a whole.

         For countless years there are so many diverse efforts initiated by the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in its implied obligation in protecting the people and the country outside of its principal task of simply doing defense. Many of its programs need not necessarily involved the use of weapons and other instruments for war. It is the involvement of the whole units and agencies under the Defense Department for purposes and objectives other than war, but may eventually speak highly of and about security. Fundamentally, the Constitution declares as a principle that the State “shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.”

                Within the foregoing mandate, the DND and its Bureaus and offices, especially the AFP, have certain human and material resources nationwide that can be used as an opportunity in promoting environmental defense and security and most likely can comply with what was specifically required of them to accomplish in terms of a healthful environment. This could further be magnified in partnership with the various NGOs and institutions that are involved in advocating environmental protection and sustainable development through the existing agreements and relative arrangement that will broaden more the DND-AFP environmental efforts. These NGOs and civil society groups have the needed experience, capability and commitment to work with the government in sharing a common goal of defending the environment.

                In the outset, the DND and the concerned NGOs can very well share their resources, capabilities and established networking whereby they can work jointly not only in promoting concepts and its endeavor, but more so specifically in the advancement of environmental protection and sustainable development in ways that will also promote the food resource and environmental security for the Filipino people. In putting forward a government initiative for food security and environmental protection becomes a necessity in realizing an immense disproportion of an unabated population growth in comparison to the dwindling resources. It is therefore an immediate consequence knowing that to feed our growing population now and in the generations to come, we need to nurture and protect the resources from which we take our food. As then Defense Sec Orlando Mercado aptly said in its entirety, “We need to protect our forests and watersheds if we want to protect our farmlands and other agricultural resources. We need to protect our seas and coastal areas if we want to protect our fisheries and marine resources. In other words, we need to defend the environment if we want to achieve food security. Food security cannot be achieved without environmental protection. Food security means ensuring that the succeeding generations of Filipinos will not have to worry about where their next meal will come from. Food security means ensuring the sustainability of our sources of food and our ways of developing them. Any natural or man-made threat to the environment that gives us food is therefore a threat to our food security. The DND is guided by the premise that any threat to our food security is a threat to national defense.”

                What happened now to the ongoing thrust of the DND regarding its supposed responsibility to the care of the environment? For the past five (5) years since the ENDP’s peak from its inception in 1999 the enthusiasm and interest has considerably diminished not because there was lack of relative resources for it to continue operation, but because of the succeeding changes in the Defense Department’s leadership priorities. In fact during the CY 2003-2004 when, fortunately the environmental concerns was given some attention, the Task Force on Ecological Concerns (TFEC) was created for the DND to embarked on a one (1) million-environment project with the ABS-CBN Foundation “Bantay Kalikasan”. In the process because the ENDP was the brainchild of somebody else it was relegated to the sidelines and was just a part of the TFEC membership. Luckily though (as we would like to put it), the ENDP as a program was not entirely left out, neither was it rescinded; it has continued on to exist inconspicuously and is still acknowledged as the “mother” or primary environmental body in the DND in as much as the Task Force validity will last only for a year. But after all of these, where will the Environmental Defense Program go?

Inter-Agency Collaboration and the Supposed Future Plans

                We know for a fact that activities or projects not in any way the priority of an organization will not get the needed support or resources intended to pursue its implementation, especially if that initiative was done before any present management’s term of office. But if we would like to scrutinize previous thrusts, it doesn’t even need big financial requirements, what it needs is simply an unconditional commitment to give value to a noble endeavor.  As always the organization ventures on tapping outside “help” to maximize the result of an effort even if some people may deem it not worth funding, but somehow equally important in whatever sense it would mean. We look for a more doable approach in realizing plans and programs that need not drain resources. In effect, the merging of all available resources at anybody’s disposal and the concerted effort foreseen will result to bigger benefits not only for one, but more so for the many. This is the reason why we go into agreements with other NGAs and the NGOs to maximize result with meager budget.

          Among other initiatives, we have the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the DND, DENR and DILG signed in 1998, which tasked the three (3) NGAs on the following responsibilities: environmental law enforcement; monitoring and reconnaissance; sharing of communication assets; conduct of research, and reforestation and natural resource protection and conservation. There was a MOA entered into by the DND with the NGO “Linis Ganda” Group in 1998 for the latter to buy papers, plastics, bottles, metals, computer ink containers, glass and batteries from the DND and its affiliated offices, facilities and military camps as part of the Department’s environmental program. Then later there was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with twenty-one (21) Environmental NGOs during the launching of the ENDP on 28 June 1999, with the intent that this will eventually paved the way for individual MOAs later.

       In the 1999 MOU the parties involve agreed on the following areas of concern: first on the promotion and advocacy of environmental protection and sustainable development.  In collaboration with those environmental NGOs and institutions, the DND shall incorporate awareness in view of inculcating a sense of commitment to environmental protection and sustainable development in the military doctrines, courses and training given by its various training and academic institutions, including the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP) and the various Staff Colleges under the AFP.  This may include the preparation of a “National Security and the Environment” course at the NDCP and the revision/introduction of AFP military doctrines to include concepts and issues in environmental security.

Second on the enforcement of environmental protection laws and security for environmental protection advocates where the DND shall make available, its personnel, media, communication and transportation facilities, equipment and other resources for the use by NGOs in their advocacy of environmental protection and sustainable development among the agencies and bureaus of the DND, among communities in environmentally-critical areas as well as among communities in far-flung or inaccessible locations, in which the assistance of the AFP or the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) may be required.

And third is on the conduct of joint projects, where the NGOs shall provide the DND with resource persons, materials, technical assistance and, if necessary, consultancy, for the DND’s own environmental protection activities and programs, including those involving the use of technologies, skills and knowledge required.

There was also a Terms of Reference (TOR) with the US for the Cooperation on Defense Related Environmental Matters signed on 14 December 2000, which deals mostly with training.

This was how the ENDP’s thrust was partially if not wholly envisioned to achieve its goals. The agreements among others that were forged by the DND in collaboration with other NGAs and the NGOs were undertaken purposely to be able to fully address the defense environmental concerns with minimal funding but expecting greater and diversified results. But after those hopeful years, even with the least possible expectations, there is no longer a semblance of such effort as a consequence of other preferred thrusts. These will now be simply a thing of the past.

Conclusion:

              It was in the context of continuity that we would have wanted to pursue the objectives and intentions of the Environmental Defense Program (ENDP). The summum bonum (greater good) for the preponderance of beneficiaries, not on who alone would benefit from its existence, but the majority who will gain from it and that includes those generations who are still to come. The seeming lack of interest by leaders who succeeded the program created by another has rendered the existing Environmental Defense Program of the DND lame and a “second class item”.

Time, money and effort have been invested in going through constructing the very foundation of the ENDP. Countless hours have been consumed to simply make the outline and framework of a modest endeavor. Future plans were laid down for its utter survival, but because of leadership priorities and different ownership and stake after a very successful four (4) years in operation and another two (2) years of support activities, everything now about the DND’s effort on the actualization of the 1999 Environmental Defense Program is downright ineffectualness, now just mere words and nothing but a piece of paper.

References:

  • A Proposal for an Environmental Defense Program, Hon. Ruben C. Carranza, Assistant Secretary for Plans and Programs, DND, 1999
  • Code of Environmental Stewardship of the Canadian Forces and their Department of National Defense (poster), 1994
  • DENR AO No. 29, IRR of RA 6969, Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act of 1990, DENR Environmental Management Bureau, 2000
  • 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
  • Essential Environment and Natural Resources Statistics, DENR, 1996
  • Inheritors of the Earth, The Human Face of the US Military Contamination at Clark Air Base, Pampanga, Philippines, Reports from Aimee Suzara, Amy Toledo and Christina Leaño, for the People’s TF for Bases Cleanup, QC, 2000.
  • MOA among the DND, DENR and DILG, 1998
  • MOA with “Linis Ganda”, 1999
  • MOU with the NGOs, 1999
  • Notes/Information Kit from the 1996 Asia-Pacific Defense Environmental Conference, Honolulu, Hawaii, 9-13 September 1996
  • 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,
  • Student’s Manual on the New Constitution 1996 Revised Edition, Jose N. Nolledo LLB., LLM. Caloocan City, 1999.
  • Terms of Reference, RP DND - US DoD Cooperation on Defense-Related Environmental Matters, Camp Gen Emilio Aguinaldo, QC, Philippines 14 December 2000
  • The Commander’s Guide on Environmental Protection, Canada, J.L. Adams, Assistant Deputy Minister, Infrastructure and Environment, 1994
  • Republished from similar article written by the author in 2005 with updated inputs.

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