Greening effort taps informal settlers in Bulacan

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AT LEAST 200 informal settler families from Metro Manila and Bulacan will be relocated in a 1,000-ha forestland in Doña Remedios Trinidad town (DRT) in Bulacan under Pres. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III’s “Balik Probinsya” program.

Out of the 1,000-ha relocation site, 25 hectares shall be devoted for settlement, disclosed executive director Maximo Dichoso of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Central Luzon.

He said the families for relocation are either informal settlers or living in high-risk zones in Metro Manila, or are forest encroachers in Bulacan.

“Our objective here is to decongest Metro Manila, relocate families to safer areas, and address forest encroachments,” he explained, adding that these families shall be tapped in government’s forest restoration programs.

Under the program, a total of 975 hectares shall be set aside for plantation establishment and agroforestry development to provide the resettlers a steady income and source of livelihood.

The DENR earmarked some P12 million for this year’s Balik Probinsya program in Central Luzon, said Dr. Sofio Quintana, DENR deputy director for forestry.

He said each family beneficiary shall be awarded with 1.5 hectares farm lot for various agroforestry enterprises.

Bamboo, coffee, rubber, and fuelwood shall be planted in about 300 hectares of the area, he added.

“Family resettlers are assured of decent livelihood, not to mention protection from risks and hazards brought about by natural calamities,” Quintana said.

Last year, the DENR produced more than 200,000 assorted seedlings of forest and fruit trees and bamboo cuttings, and established more than 300 hectares of tree and bamboo plantation and agroforestry area for the program beneficiaries.

“These families shall be trained by DENR foresters in seedling production and plantation development, and protection and maintenance so they can sustain what the DENR has initially started in the area,” he explained.

The community shall be provided with electrical facilities, water system, and roads by concerned national government agencies and local government units, while DENR shall support the establishment of nursery and small water impounding structures, and fire watch towers for their forest development efforts.

The DENR asked the Gawad Kalinga Community Development Foundation (GK) to help develop investment portfolios to attract enterprise developers in the area and help the family beneficiaries market their produce.

The National Housing Authority (NHA), on the other hand, shall provide low-cost housing for the family beneficiaries, he added.

Informal settlers along rivers and esteros have been largely blamed for the massive floodings in Metro Manila.

Article 51 of P.D. 1067, or the Water Code of the Philippines, prohibits the settlement or construction of permanent structures within three meters of riverbanks in urban areas, 20 meters in agricultural areas, and 40 meters in forest areas.

Records from the National Statistics Office (NSO) and the National Housing Authorities (NHA) showed there are more than 500,000 informal settler families living in Metro Manila.