Empowering communities to care for the planet one tree at a time
Daily Tribune | 6 June 2022
Many businesses, big and small, have started actively advocating sustainability to strike the much-needed balance between generating revenue and ensuring a better and greener future for the next generation. At the forefront of this drive towards sustainability is the country’s largest distribution utility, the Manila Electric Company (Meralco). In a bid to bring a meaningful and lasting impact to its customers, its communities, and the country, Meralco established its own Sustainability Agenda with a view towards achieving business objectives and transforming operations, while protecting the environment and ultimately, powering better lives.
This Sustainability Agenda — called “Powering the Good Life” — is marked by a distinctive focus on four pillars: Power, Planet, People, and Prosperity, and is rooted in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). With environmental stewardship as part and parcel of this Sustainability Agenda, One Meralco Foundation (OMF), the company’s social development arm, has been championing initiatives aimed at caring for our common home.
Through One for Trees, OMF leads the Meralco Group in preserving and protection of Philippine forests and watersheds through reforestation and agroforestry. The program aspires to nurture and protect at least 5 million trees by 2025, while providing sustainable livelihood to communities around conservation sites.
Launched in 2019, One for Trees aim to help protect critical forests by engaging local communities in the mission to plant trees and nurture them for at least three years. It was successfully piloted in San Miguel, Bulacan through a partnership with Green Earth Heritage Foundation, a non-profit organization that also focuses on agroforestry.
“The program highlights the importance of community engagement as a crucial element in making tree nurturing programs truly sustainable,” says Atty. Ray Espinosa, Vice Chairman of OMF and President and CEO of Meralco.
“While caring for the environment is important, attending to the social and economic needs of communities in and around forests is also equally essential,” he added.
By the end of 2021, more than a million seedlings have been planted in reforestation sites in Luzon and the Visayas. This includes 80,750 trees planted by OMF’s partners in San Miguel, Bulacan and 143,791 trees planted by various people’s organizations engaged by Global Business Power.
SUSTAINING MORE COMMUNITIES
In 2021, OMF entered into a partnership with Xavier Science Foundation (XSF) for the expansion of the “One for Trees” reforestation program in Mindanao, starting with Bukidnon.
The project is now being implemented in partnership with the Nagkahiusang mga Manobong Manununod sa Yutang Kabilin (NAMAMAYUK), a Manobo organization with members spread out across four sitios in the barangays of Bacusanon and Nabaliwa, Pangantucan, Bukidnon.
Through the Payment for Ecosystem Services, XSF brings together donors from non-profit and private sectors and peoples’ organizations such as indigenous groups to jointly care for the environment.
The Manobos were displaced when settlers from outside Mindanao began to relocate in the area. Commercial logging also denuded it.
After many years of dialogue, the Manobos finally returned home with help from the Catholic Church and the local government. However, their once lush forest is now almost completely devoid of trees. This is why NAMAMAYUK members have been working hard to replant indigenous trees hoping to revive their traditional source of food and medicine.
REVIVING THE FORESTS
Despite their limited means, members of NAMAMAYUK have been actively replanting endangered tree and plant species in their ancestral domain with the hope of nursing back to health their traditional forest.
Grassroots organizations like XSF also invested in the capacity of the natives to implement agroforestry, helping them grow and market high-value crops like corn, cacao, and coffee.
“Through the Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES), XSF brings together donors from the non-profit and private sectors and peoples’ organizations such as indigenous groups to jointly care for the environment,” says Roel Ravanera, Executive Director of XSF.
In 2021, OMF entered into a partnership with Xavier Science Foundation for the expansion of the One for Trees reforestation program in Mindanao. Present during the MOA signing were (in photo L-R): OMF President Jeffrey O. Tarayao, Xavier University CDO President and XSF Chairman, Fr. Mars P. Tan SJ, and XSF Executive Director Roel Ravanera.
“We channel the donations from the funders to the communities in the form of financial incentives, so they appreciate the value of caring for the environment. It is in this framework that OMF comes in as a partner of our foundation in helping the NAMAMAYUK,” he added.
OMF’s partnership with XSF is enabled it to fund the ongoing reforestation and agroforestry efforts of the NAMAMAYUK. Starting with the planting of 49,980 seedlings of native tree species, and coffee, the Foundation’s investment in the partnership also includes multi-year funding for maintenance and is expected to incrementally increase the number of trees in the next five years.
To ensure every member of the association is given equitable opportunities to benefit from the project, the NAMAMAYUK leaders distributed the reforestation work across the four sitios. In each planting site, a leader was appointed to see to it that the seedlings were planted as planned, continuously monitored, and maintained.
Aside from the income earned for growing, planting, monitoring, and nurturing the trees, NAMAMAYUK members will potentially earn more once the fruit bearing trees are ready for harvest and the coffee beans are processed and sold.
“We are extremely thankful to the Almighty for bringing together institutions like the One Meralco Foundation and Xavier Science Foundation to help us revive our natural heritage,” Datu Herminio Guinto, appointed as the tribal adviser, said during the inaugural tree planting activity attended by over a hundred NAMAMAYUK members.
The festive event commenced with Manobo traditional rituals signifying that, more than just a reforestation project, it has a deeper cultural significance to the lumads.
“As partners, we commit to doing our share in ensuring the success of this initiative and taking care of the trees entrusted to us through this project,” Guinto added.
One for Trees is more than just a tree planting initiative since it involved taking care of the seedlings until it is mature enough to thrive on its own.
“In the long run, these trees will certainly help mitigate the effects of climate change. I believe that through One for Trees, we are able to significantly contribute to our shared responsibility of providing a livable, more sustainable world for our children,” says OMF President Jeffrey O. Tarayao.