The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is asking for a higher budget of P28.67 billion for 2017 to bankroll programs designed to protect the environment and improve the lives of marginalized communities.

At a recent budget hearing in the House of Representatives, DENR Secretary Gina Lopez said a bigger budget will help the department fulfill its commitment to social justice through the implementation of environmental protection programs anchored on convergence and area-development approach.

"Our main challenge is to raise the quality of life in communities that are the primary stakeholders and pursue measures that will optimize their growth potentials," Lopez told House members when she presented to them last Monday the DENR's budget proposal for next year.

The DENR's proposed budget for 2017 is about 31 percent higher than its P21.8-billion allocation for this year.

Lopez said the budget increase "mirrors the Duterte administration's push for social justice to ensure that majority of the Filipino people truly benefit from the exploitation of the country's natural resources."

She said the DENR will be working closely with civil society groups, scientists, and social entrepreneurs to turn its programs and projects into income-generating enterprises for communities.

One of these is the National Greening Program (NGP), the government's flagship reforestation program, which Lopez is eyeing to turn into a tool to improve the lives of the poor.

NGP is a six-year massive forest rehabilitation program that aimed to cover 1.5 million hectares of degraded forestland with trees by the end of 2016. But it was extended until 2028 through an executive order issued in November 2015 in a bid to rehabilitate 7.1 million hectares more.

As of the end of 2015, the NGP has already created at least 2.2 million "green jobs," benefiting more than 320,000 individuals hired as workers in planting sites and tree seedling nurseries.

Lopez had earlier vowed to make sure the NGP will continue to benefit the marginalized communities through ecotourism and agroforestry development.

For 2017, the DENR is asking Congress to allocate P9.4 billion for NGP's implementation.

According to DENR Undersecretary for Policy and Planning Marlo Mendoza, the DENR's focus next year will be on the NGP, responsible mining, forest protection, and biodiversity conservation.

DENR programs such as the forest protection program was allocated P674 million; biodiversity conservation program, P763 million; coastal and marine ecosystem program, P633 million; land administration and management, P568 million; research and development, P90 million and Manila Bay Clean Up Program, P80 million.

The proposed budget likewise covers two major foreign-assisted projects being implemented by the DENR, totalling to around P2 billion as government share, namely the Forest Management Project and the Integrated Natural Resources and Environment Management Project.

A total of P3.4 billion was earmarked for DENR's line bureaus and attached agencies. A big chunk of the allocation or P1.6 billion goes to the Environmental Management Bureau, which implements projects on solid waste management, clean air and clean water.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau is allocated P688 million for its mining regulation services and geohazard assessment and mapping.

The National Mapping Resource Integrated Authority or NAMRIA, a DENR attached agency, has an allocation of P1 billion, of which P394 million will be used for the government's unified mapping project.

The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development is allocated with P50 million.

Some P78 million will go to the National Water Resources Board for the implementation of its two major projects: the Comprehensive Water Resources Assessment in Major River Basin and the Establishment of Monitoring Stations in Water Constrained Cities. ###