Environment Secretary Gina Lopez is planning to turn the man-made forest area along Central Avenue, a property of the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City, into an "ecological paradise" with the help of stakeholders, including its informal settlers.

Lopez said the 17-hectare UP Arboretum has the potential to become an ecological model for development and its informal settlers can be tapped as partners and benefit directly from livelihood projects.

"I want an ecological paradise here where there is renewable energy, good septage, medicinal plants; where people from all over the country, the world even, can converge. You can make some money, the community makes money. That's the way they get out of poverty," Lopez said during the launch of the nationwide tree-planting project of the Far Eastern University Nicanor Reyes Medical Foundation Beta Sigma Fraternity Alumni Association Inc. (FEU-NRMFBSFAAI) held in the arboretum.

Lopez, an advocate of entrepreneurship, strongly believes that economic development should benefit all the people, especially the underprivileged. She wants a holistic plan where people are part of the development.

For the UP Arboretum, Lopez is looking at agroforestry and the use of environment-friendly technology as business opportunities, particularly those that can be used for production of fertilizers and medicines.

"We include the people and if the people's lives here do not improve, consider the model a failure," Lopez pointed out. "Let them live here and show how people can live in paradise."

Lopez also discussed with UP Vice-Chancellor for Community Affairs Prof. Nestor T. Castro her intention to meet the heads of the UP Colleges of Architecture, Sociology, Psychology, Community Development, Forestry and Medicine to explore how the academe can be part of the plan for the area.

She said the UP Arboretum can also be a learning ground for the community, the students and even the DENR.

Castro, whose office attends to the university's community concerns, welcomed Lopez's move to include the informal settlers in the plan for what has been dubbed as the "only remaining forest in the metropolis."

The tree-planting program targets to transform the arboretums of UP and the La Mesa Dam into world-class botanical gardens in five years. It is the centerpiece of the medium-term carbon-sequestration project for Metro Manila of Beta Sigma Fraternity and the Coalition of Clean Air Advocates of the Philippines (CCAAP).

A medical mission and a feeding program for the residents were also held after the tree planting.

Also present in the event were running priest and environmentalist Fr. Robert Reyes, Dr. Mike Aragon of FEU-NRMFBSFAAI, Project Chair Butch Madarang, CCAAP President Herminio Buerano, Forester Rolly Acosta of DENR NCR, and Barangay UP Campus Chair Isabelita Gravidez. ###