POSTSCRIPT / December 2, 2001 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Is DENR ready for US scheme to write off debt?

NEW YORK — It is not generally known that the Philippines need not pay a cent to the United States to chip away at the $430 million it owes the US in concessional or easy loans. Imagine paying for part of those loans without actually paying for them! All the Philippine government has to do is to allocate funds for forest conservation. Under certain criteria, the peso value of such conservation measures is then considered payment for part of those loans from the US.

In their joint statement issued Nov. 20 at the White House, Presidents George W. Bush and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo affirmed their shared commitments to protect the environment. They pledged to continue technical cooperation.

Mr. Bush informed GMA that the Philippines has been declared eligible for debt treatment programs under the US Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA) of 1998. This law provides for the cancellation of a portion of concessional debt owed to the US in exchange for a commitment to make peso payments to support local forest conservation.

When Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Jose de Venecia were in Washington, DC, with the delegation brought by President Arroyo in her recent working visit to the US, we asked them what their plans were in this area.

Both Congress leaders said that as soon as they got back to work upon their return to Manila, they would push legislation for forest conservation having in mind using such debt offsetting measures disclosed by Mr. Bush.

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QUESTIONS FOR DENR: Any government move in this direction will require vision, dedication, patriotism and honesty. We shudder every time a million dollars in foreign assistance or loans is given us for the environment, every time a million pesos is allegedly spent for the care of our natural resources.

That’s because we’ve seen how millions of dollars from the United Nations and other sources meant for conservation have vanished with our Department of Environment and Natural Resources having nothing to show for it and with the grafters and their partners in the private sector going scot-free.

Questions are already being asked if the task of caring for our environment — including protecting our forest cover — should be entrusted to the current leadership in the DENR and the satellite of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) orbiting around Environment Secretary Heherson Alvarez.

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FOCUS ON $20-M GRANT: In a paper sent us by reader Jenna Lopez on “Civil Society and the $20-million Biodiversity Conservation Grant,” she called attention to what she denounced as the “sleaze, hypocrisy, collusion, corruption and ineptitude” that marked, she said, the handling of foreign funds meant for the protection and conservation of our natural resources.

Lopez raised the issue of accountability of some NGOs, including one identified with Alvarez and his wife. She asked what the secretary would do with the World Bank’s recommendation to correct, if not salvage, the reported management disaster in the Conservation of Priority Protected Areas Project or CPPAP.

Under the project, a consortium of NGOs (called the NIPA Inc.) received $20 million from the Global Environment Fund (GEF) of the World Bank. The GEF was established in 1990 to provide concessional funding to developing countries in biodiversity conservation.

Lopez said that NIPA has been implementing the conservation project since 1996. As recipient of the CPPAP funding, NIPA is obliged to use the money for on-lending and providing grants for carrying out projects under a livelihood component. NIPA administers the subgrants and subloans funds with an allocation of $4,654,730.

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ALVAREZ IN CONSORTIUM: NIPA stands for “NGOs for Integrated Protected Areas Inc.” It is an incorporation of 25 NGOs whose main purpose, according to Lopez, is to administer the $20-million grant.

Notable among the NIPA members are the Alvarezes’ Earth Savers Movement, Nicanor Perlas’ Center for Alternative Development Initiatives (CADI), former DENR Undersecretary Delfin Ganapin’s Philippine Federation for Environmental Concerns (PFEC), Horacio “Boy” Morales’s, now Bobby Tanada’s Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM), Patricia Araneta’s Philippine Institute of Alternative Futures (PIAF), Haribon, which counts among its officer Lori Tan of KOMPIL fame and Von Hernandez of Greenpeace Philippines.

Earth Savers Movement was founded by Alvarez in 1987. It is represented in NIPA by its secretary-general Roger Birosel. It holds office at the Fil Garcia Tower, 140 Kalayaan cor. Mayaman St., Diliman, Quezon City, and at the PCU building in the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Nature Center, Quezon City.

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MANAGEMENT INEPTNESS?: Lopez reported that NIPA has spent some P500 million from the grant since 1996 and that it has released only P9.5 million from a P500-million fund for livelihood projects. She also cited records of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau showing a balance of P27,037,434.17 as of last April 30. Of this, P19,792.944 was still unreleased while P7,244,490.17 was unliquidated.

She blamed NIPA’s “managerial ineptitude and sleaze” for the World Bank’s recalling $2 million (about P100 million) from the P500 million livelihood fund meant for poor farmers and fishermen in and near protected areas. By providing them livelihood, the fund hoped that they would not destroy the resources in the protected areas.

At an average of P5,000 loan per household, P100 million would have provided food, education and shelter to 20,000 households in the 10 priority sites of CPPAP. But Lopez reported that because of NIPA’s incompetence, some 100,000 households have been deprived of a decent source of income, putting protected areas at risk.

Since 1996, according to Lopez, NIPA’s implementation of CPPAP has been consistently rated by the World Bank as unsatisfactory. Its latest rating was in 2000 when the bank concluded that it “was making ‘unsatisfactory’ progress in implementation and towards meeting its developmental objectives.” Before the World Bank mission this year (2001), its portfolio management system already rated the NIPA’s project “at risk based on standard indicators used globally.”

On June 30, 2002, the GEF grant will officially close with the intended beneficiaries of CPPAP in much the same condition they were in before the project started, according to Lopez.

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WB NOT SATISFIED: In June 2001, the World Bank sent a mission to review the performance of CPPAP coming on the heels of NIPA’s unsatisfactory performance.

The focus was to “assess the progress achieved in carrying out the agreed actions… in the aide memoire (dated Dec. 21, 2000), and provide further assistance to the CPPAP and TABC project teams to enable them to implement and consolidate the priority actions and better achieve the project objectives and desired sustainable impacts.” A multidisciplinary team of specialists was fielded in July to August 2001.

The NGOs are expected to press for another loan or grant extension. Lopez said that with Alvarez at the DENR, it is likely that “NGOs will get away cleanly, not only because he owes them a pound of flesh, but also because his NGO is an incorporator of NIPA.”

Lopez said that all decent Filipinos should make themselves heard on the matter. She added that some “NGOs have already flubbed the Asian Development Bank’s soft loan on contract reforestation (during the time of Secretary Fulgencio S. Factoran and up to the time of Secretary Victor O. Ramos), burying this generation and the next generations of Filipinos deeper into the debt grave.”

She said: “The contract reforestation scam by some NGOs makes it one of the top scam in the DENR’s checkered history. The interesting thing is that the so-called environmentalist, Sonny Alvarez, has not even investigated.”

If there are ghost employees and ghost projects in government, she said, there are also ghost NGOs, one-man NGOs, and one-man NGO federations.

Lopez asked: “How can an NGO with a paid-up capital of P30,000 to P50,000 be tasked to manage $20 million (just like Erap’s P58,000-capital company buying the P150- million Boracay mansion)?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 2, 2001)

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