It all started with then Lopez Group chairman Oscar M. Lopez and members of the Lopez family planting a Tindalo seedling at the Quezon Memorial Circle 12 years ago.
From that single binhi or seedling from the mother tree that Pres. Manuel L. Quezon planted at the Bacolod City town plaza on its inauguration as a chartered city on Oct. 19, 1938, the future of Philippine native trees has taken root through BINHI, Energy Development Corporation’s (EDC) forest restoration and mainstreaming of Philippine native tree species program.
BINHI began as EDC’s next-level greening initiative born out of the need to maintain lush forests to sustain its geothermal reservoir. Instead of planting fast-growing and invasive exotic tree species, the watershed management team decided to focus on the use of Philippine native tree species and fruit trees to bridge forest gaps in its areas of operation.
“We realized that it was not enough for us to just plant random tree seedlings to maintain, if not enhance, the biodiversity in our areas of operation. Beyond this, we knew when we launched this program that BINHI will benefit not only EDC but more so our partner communities and our planet,” said Atty. Allan Barcena, head of the EDC corporate social responsibility and public relations group.
Barcena and the rest of the BINHI team realized that this ambitious initiative entailed a huge responsibility that EDC alone cannot fulfill—something as big as the 270,000 hectares of geothermal watersheds across the country that the company is managing, which is close to 1% of the country’s total land area.
This is where forging collaborative partnerships came in.
Beyond the local and international accolades that the country’s biggest private sector-led greening initiative has garnered, EDC considers the 6.44 million native and fruit tree seedlings that it has planted in close to 10,000 hectares of land inside its geothermal reservations across the country as one of the program’s true greening legacies. This would not have been possible without the help of the 88 farmers associations that EDC has transformed from being kaingineros (slash-and-burn farmers) to forest stewards.
“This paradigm shift of the farmers in our host communities has likewise given them a viable source of livelihood since EDC incentivized them for helping us manage our BINHI areas,” said Barcena.
Regenerative BINHI partnerships
For its 12th anniversary celebration, EDC launched the BINHI Biodiversity Hub in its Mount Apo Geothermal facility. The place is a showcase for Mount Apo Natural Park’s rich flora and fauna, which the company has been cultivating since it started operating its 108-megawatt geothermal facility at the foot of the country’s tallest mountain in 1997.
The hub houses a vegetative material reproduction (VMR) or automated tree species nursery as well as a biodiversity education center and EDC’s BINHI arboretum.
“Our Mindanao tree species collection of 75 out of EDC’s 96 flagship BINHI native tree species can be found in the arboretum,” said Myrissa Tabao, head of EDC’s CSR team at the Mount Apo Geothermal Project. “We likewise propagate our priority species through the adjacent VMR nursery that allows us to fast-track the production of its seedlings via automated misting system.”
In August 2020, EDC forged a partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau for the propagation of 11 most rare and threatened tree species, including four Mindanao endemic species.
Requests for BINHI seedlings
The Mount Apo VMR nursery is EDC’s fourth. The first two were established in the company’s Northern and Southern Negros facilities, while the third was put up in Antipolo to cater to requests for BINHI seedlings from EDC’s growing list of partners.
“Our BINHI partnerships that enable us to bring back to abundance our threatened Philippine native tree seedlings likewise set our program apart from other greening programs and make it regenerative,” said Barcena.
Being regenerative is all about uplifting everything that EDC touches or, in the case of the environment, restoring it to its original state as much as possible. It embodies the new mission of “forging collaborative pathways for a decarbonized and regenerative future” that the Lopez Group, which includes EDC, has committed to achieve through the way the conglomerate operates its businesses.
To date, EDC has 183 BINHI partners that helped the company establish 15 arboreta in 12 years, with six more lined up this year. Not even the COVID19 pandemic stopped EDC and like-minded organizations from forging collaborative BINHI partnerships as six of them signed up during the lockdown period.
Six new sign-ups
Among the partnership agreements signed in 2020 were two from the academe (Bicol University in Legazpi and Silliman University in Dumaguete), two homeowners’ associations (Victoria Valley Homeowners’ Association in Antipolo and La Vista Homeowners’ Association in Quezon City), a religious organization in Bulacan (Priests of Notre Dame de Vie or PNDV), and Ormoc City.
“We are very grateful that we were able to forge partnerships with different groups across the country that share the same goal of regenerating our environment with us. Even in the midst of a pandemic, it’s still vital to work together to achieve our shared commitment for a greener future,” said Barcena.
Around 2,000 sq. m. to two hectares of land from these six new partnerships are expected to become a nesting place of the 96 premium native Philippine tree species that will add up to the greening legacy of EDC BINHI.
EDC will provide the seedlings to the partner groups, while the latter will be responsible for the nourishment and maintenance of the tree species. The EDC BINHI team will also provide technical assistance to the latter to ensure the growth of the native tree seedlings.
Bishop Benjamin Almoneda of PNDV stressed the significance of the partnership between two institutions which coincides with the year of Laudato Si or Pope Francis’ encyclical that calls for everyone to care for the earth, the vulnerable and the poor.
“This event is very significant. This has been planned by God several years ago. This project is fueled by the fire of the Holy Spirit and as we plant more trees, especially Philippine native tree species, we are taking care of the earth, our home,” Almoneda said during the virtual signing ceremony.
Silliman University president Dr. Betty McCann said their partnership with EDC widens the impact of promoting forest conservation and the preservation and propagation of threatened native tree species.
“It is our hope that this arboretum may serve not only as a tree refuge and source of viable seeds for reforestation but also as a venue for student and community learning to enhance our nature conservation and environmental awareness,” she said.
EDC’s BINHI partnerships became global in 2019 after the company was chosen by Botanic Gardens Conservation International, the secretariat of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), for the Global Tree Assessment of 800 Philippine native tree species. EDC has completed the assessment of 800 Philippine endemic tree species, with IUCN publishing 89 species in their Red List.
“We hope that more partners will be encouraged to collaborate with us in saving the earth by helping us bring back to abundance our threatened Philippine native tree species through BINHI. This will all be our greening legacy,” Barcena said. (Story/Photos by: Frances Ariola)