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DENR National Capital Region led a simultaneous tree planting activity on Tuesday, 25 June 2019, at Baseco compound in Tondo, Manila and in different Metro Manila-based campuses of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP).

The regional office, in partnership with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC), and other mandamus agencies and civil society organizations, planted mangrove trees and other salt-tolerant plants in the beach area of Baseco as a phytoremediation measure. This will help improve water quality and contribute to efforts in cleaning and rehabilitating Manila Bay. “Phytoremediation”, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “is the efficient use of plants to remove, detoxify or immobilise environmental contaminants in soil, water or sediments through the natural biological, chemical or physical activities and processes of the plants”. 

Meanwhile, around 6,000 seedlings—composed mainly of indigenous and native species—were planted by students and faculty members of PUP. The tree planting was done in its main campus in Sta. Mesa, Manila, and in its branches in Parañaque City, San Juan City, Taguig City, and Quezon City.  The plants will not only help improve air quality in the campus but beautify the area and reduce stress to faculty and students.

The activity is the highlight of DENR National Capital Region’s celebration of Philippine Environment Month (PEM) and Philippines Arbor Day (PAD) respectively. The theme of the celebration is “Grow More Trees, Beat Air Pollution” to emphasize the important role of trees in reducing air pollution among other environmental concerns.

DENR National Capital Region Regional Executive Director Jacqueline A. Caancan hopes that the public will be more involved in planting more trees and help in the care of existing ones. “Congested as it is, Metro Manila will benefit more with increased green spaces”, RED Caancan explained. “More trees would mean improved air and water quality, cooler temperatures, enhanced biodiversity, and increased value of property here in Metro Manila” she added.

According to Breathe Life Network—a UN led global campaign to bring air pollution to safe levels by 2030—the air that we breathe in Metro Manila is “70 percent” above the safe level set by the World Health Organization (WHO) for Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5.  PM 2.5 are ultrafine airborne particles that penetrate deep into the lungs when inhaled. These are known to cause heart attacks, strokes, asthma, and bronchitis, as well as premature death from heart ailments, lung disease, and cancer. Studies have likewise shown that higher PM 2.5 exposure can impair brain development in children. 

The most common source of air pollutants in Metro Manila according to the Environmental Management Bureau-National Capital Region (EMB-NCR) is “mobile sources” or motor vehicles. Data shows that “88% of air pollution come from emission of

motor vehicles and other engines and equipment that can be moved from one location to another”.

These pollutants, however, could have been absorbed if there were more trees in Metro Manila. Sadly, as the population of the region grow bigger by the year, more land has been converted into housing and infrastructure. As a result, the green spaces of Metro Manila has shrunk in proportion.

“The challenge for us here in Metro Manila”, says RED Caancan, “is finding innovative ways to maximize our existing green spaces. This may be done by planting fast-growing trees that are suited to an urban setting and known to be effective in fighting air and water pollution”. Given our limited space, “we must invest more on green roofs and walls and convert whatever space available to us into pockets of greens”.

PEM is celebrated in June of every year by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 237, s-1998 while PAD is celebrated every 25th of June by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 396, s-2003 as amended.