By Lolly R. Acosta and Claire Morales True
QUEZON CITY – The president and CEO of the Philippines’ largest conglomerate, San Miguel Corporation (SMC), and one of the wealthiest Filipinos, has urged businessmen to invest more for the social good like environmental protection.
SMC President-CEO Ramon S. Ang made the call as advocates and representatives of organizations for environment protection gathered at the La Mesa Watershed along President Quirino highway in Quezon City for the blessing and inauguration of the Million Trees Foundation Inc. (MTFI) Nursery and Eco Learning Center.
Among those presentt during the inauguration were MWSS Administrator Engr. Leonor Cleofas who lauded the project and pledged support to it in her welcome remarks; Mr. Al Orolfo, PhD representing DENR Acting Secretary Jim Sampulna; Mr. Randy Estrellado of Maynilad; Mr. Jose Victor Emmanuel de Dios of Manila Water; Engr. Edgar Doña of San Miguel Holdings Corporation; Mr. Nick Linao of Santa Clara International Corporation; and representatives of Mr. Donato Almeda, president of Manila Water Foundation, and Mr. Guillame Lucci of Prime Infrastructure Holdings, Inc. and JCI Senate Philippines, among others.
At the same time, Ang, who was the guest of honor and speaker during the event, said he sees a bright future for the Philippine economy, especially if the next administration knows how to usher in a rebound amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think the economy will grow very quickly especially kung ang bagong gobyerno, marunong mag-focus sa economic recovery program kamukha ng how to grow GDP and how to create more employment,” Ang said.
Ang said that businessmen should take the initiative to invest more on projects that will benefit more people.
“Businesses should not always be about profit,” he said as he urged the other concessionaires of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) — the Manila Water and Maynilad –to invest on the environment.
Addressing representatives from Manila Water and Maynilad, he said: “I am challenging you to tell your bosses, Enrique Razon and [Manuel V.] Pangilinan, to invest in the environment. If you can’t tell them that, I will tell them.”
“We should tell our politicians to concentrate in helping the people. Concentrate in running the government, good governance, and also in generating more jobs,” Ang added.
To boost output, he suggested building more export processing zones and new businesses. The government could also adopt replanting programs, encourage farmers to plant more rice, corn, and vegetables, and get into palm plantation, he said.
“(We should) encourage more local manufacturing, local productions. Can you imagine: we used to export cement, now we are importing cement and spending $1 billion a year? Diba dapat itigil ‘yung mga ganun?” said the business tycoon.
MTFI Chairman Emeritus and former MWSS Administrator and Chairman Gen. Reynaldo V. Velasco (Ret) introduced Ang as “a visionary and a humble person” despite his prominence in the business community. His love for nature and for the environment is very evident in the environmental projects he pursues. “I still have to see a businessman who will invest on his own in clearing a very big river like Tullahan in support of the project of DENR,” Velasco said.
The Million Trees Nursery and Eco Learning Center is an essential component of MFTI programs that will ensure the sustainability of the MWSS Annual Million Trees Challenge (AMTC) through the years.
The AMTC has successfully reached its target with 5.2 million trees planted in five years. The trees were planted in the seven critical watersheds namely, La Mesa, Ipo, Angat, Upper Marikina, Umiray, Kaliwa, Laguna Lake and Manila Bay, that affect the water supply in Metro Manila and neighboring provinces in the service area of MWSS.
Planting of 10 million more trees until 2030 is the project’s next goal.
The Nursery and Eco Learning Center is the maiden project in the five-hectare area leased to MTFI by the Philippine government through the MWSS for 15 years.
As the support and production arm of MTFI, it will provide optimum growing conditions to germinated seeds of trees to be planted in reforestation projects. MFTI targets to produce 500,000 planting materials initially that will include narra, ylang-ylang and bamboo. It will supply the tree sapling needs of its institutional partners. It will also serve as learning hub for environment protection and venue for seminars and trainings.
The project was undertaken initially using sustainable materials such as recovered and old yakal lumber and two 40-footer container vans that now house the on-site MTFI satellite office and the Million Trees Souvenir Shop as well as the kiosks, one of which houses the Yakal Coffee Shop that offers specialty coffee concoctions. These concoctions include Boss Kape laced with VCO, Kape Heneral (barako), Kape Con Miel (coffee with honey), and Don Ramon Affogato in honor of former President Fidel V. Ramos, General Reynaldo V. Velasco (Ret), AMTC founder; Melandrew T. Velasco, MFTI President and Executive Director, and SMC’s Ramon S. Ang, respectively.
The roof top of the two container vans also double up as a view deck and a bigger training area as well as an exhibit and events place.
MFTI president Melandrew T. Velasco said that the use of recovered yakal lumber is part of the Foundation’s sustainability and recycling advocacy. The yakal woods were sourced from the MWSS stockyard and repurposed as flooring of container vans, tables and benches, fence, and billboard.
The construction of the nursery which had its groundbreaking last September 30, 2022 was made possible with the support from donors. RSA provided P5 million seed money for the initial needs of MFTI. He revealed that the donation was made voluntarily.
The ground preparations of the initial phase of the project development were undertaken by Santa Clara International. This involved more than 100 truckloads of soil and the deployment of heavy equipment over the last four months.
During the event, a marker dedicated to former President Fidel V. Ramos was also unveiled.
According to MFTI President/Executive Director Melandrew Velasco, the marker is a fitting tribute to FVR who turned 94 on March 18, 2022. It was during the FVR presidency when the public-private partnership of water utilities in Metro Manila was realized ensuring water service and security to residents in NCR and neighboring provinces of Bulacan, Cavite and Rizal. The former president has always championed environment protection and demonstrated good stewardship of the environment toward sustainable development. Velasco is a veteran author, publisher and the biographer of FVR and the Ramos family as well as historian of the Ramos Peace and Development Foundation (RPDev).
The Million Trees 10-year development proposal was also presented to MFTI’s institutional partners. The proposal was earlier presented at the strategic planning conducted by MFTI last month.