By MELODY M. AGUIBA
[ Manila Bulletin Online ] December 13, 2008
Lopez-owned First Gen Corp. (FGC), the country’s largest independent power producer (IPP) with its own fuel source, has embarked on a 5,000-hectare community-based forest management (CBFM) project as part of a commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative.
FGC subsidiary Energy Development Corp. is implementing the CBFM project over 10 years for which it will infuse P405 million.
The company found it imperative to carry out the reforestation project within its own geothermal sites which are on 300,000 hectares of watershed areas that need forests for their own sustainability.
"EDC needs a healthy cover to sustain the underground reservoir that provides geothermal energy, its core business," said EDC Chairman Oscar M. Lopez at the launching of the CBFM project called "Binhi."
FGC-EDC is world’s second largest geothermal energy producer and Philippines’ largest geothermal energy producer.
EDC President and Chief Executive Officer Paul A. Aquino said Binhi is just a sequel to EDC’s long-time commitment to environmental protection since the 1980s.
"We’ve managed to plant 7.4 million trees in about 9,500 hectares of forests around our five geothermal project areas. This is on top of the existing natural forests that we’ve been protecting since the early 1980s," Aquino said.
What is distinct about the reforestation project is the use of endangered indigenous Philippine forest species that are believed to have better survival and utilization potential in the country.
Lopez himself demonstrated in a tree planting ceremony the planting of an endemic forest seed, tindalo, whose growth and preservation should be passed on from one generation to another.
Along with Aquino and Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte, Lopez planted at the Quezon Memorial Circle a tindalo forest specie seedling that came from a fully mature tree whose seed was planted in 1938 by former President Manuel L. Quezon found at a public plaza park in Bacolod City. The rite required the presence of Quezon’s grandson, Ricky Quezon-Avancena and of Lopez’s grandsons, Robert Lopez and Joaquin Lopez as a symbol of passing on commitment to reforest to the future generation.
A notable thrust of Binhi of FGC-EDC is its identification of endangered Philippine forest species, locating of their remaining, often unknown, sources, and their propagation.
"To some it may be an ordinary tree planting, but the trees that we plant are not so ordinary at all. What makes it special is its focus on prime endangered Philippine tree species that can also provide forest services just like any other tree," said Lopez.
Tindalo has been singled out as icon of the program being a foremost Philippine endangered specie that has important economic uses.
Also a primary objective of the program is to give livelihood to forest natives who are engaged in forest destruction through kaingin or slash and burn.
Without an alternative livelihood means through the establishment of protection forests or assisted natural regeneration (ANR), the natives may further contribute to a reduction in the country’s forest cover which has become extremely alarming at only 18.3 percent a few decades back.
Former Environment Secretary Elisea Gozun said the CBFM will also propagate a very rare Philippine species, mangkono, an indigenous tree also known as "iron wood" for its sturdy nature and its being steel-like in its ability to sink underwater that no other wood has.
Binhi, which means germling, embryo or seed also gives importance to reforestation as a source of trees for the future, trees for food, trees for life, and trees for leisure.
EDC, even when it was owned by the government through Philippine National Oil Co., has been actively reforesting within its geothermal sites and will sustain this program by putting up a seed bank of vanishing hardwood and dipterocarp species for future forests in order to tap these premium trees for economic uses.
"EDC has etched an indelible mark as an environmental corporate citizen and has transformed upland communities from slash and burn farmers into staunch environmental protectors," Lopez said.
The program is also in partnership with the Department of Environment and Natual Resources, Conservation Interantional, Department of Tourism Climate Change Panel, World Wildlife Fund, Department of Education which will education people on forest regeneration, League of Corporate Foundation, and Boys-Girsl Scouts of the Philippines.