Global Bamboo & Rattan Congress

Thank you very much to the International Bamboo & Rattan Organization (INBAR), the National Forestry & Grassland Administration of the People’s Republic of China (NFGA), and the ASEAN-China Centre (ACC) for inviting me to be part of this Global Bamboo & Rattan Congress. Particularly in this Parallel Session—“A Vision for Bamboo and Rattan in ASEAN”.

The Philippines is a strong partner of INBAR in promoting  the crucial role of bamboo and rattan for the sustainable development in ASEAN.  This partnership was exhibited last April 2017 when in celebration of the Earth Day, the Philippine Embassy in Beijing and INBAR co-organized a bamboo planting activity at the Embassy grounds and a Dialogue on “Bamboo and Rattan for Sustainable Development in Southeast Asia”, which   event was participated in by officials from Southeast Asian Embassies and other members of the diplomatic corps in Beijing, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Commerce and State Forestry Administration of China, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the ASEAN-China Centre, among others. During the event, our Philippine Ambassador to China, H.E. Jose Santiago Sta. Romana,  recognized the “positive contributions of bamboo and rattan to climate change mitigation and adaptation and increased resilience to natural disasters”, and had the occasion to point out that “despite its potential to drive green growth and sustainable development in the area, Southeast Asian bamboo and rattan industries are still in their early stages compared to China.”

This parallel session’s topic, “A Vision for Bamboo and Rattan in ASEAN”,  is truly relevant given the fact that as we have cited in numerous occasions, the ASEAN member states together account for approximately 20% (USD393 million) of the global trade in bamboo and rattan.  So, there is no doubt that bamboo and rattan can be a real driver for sustainable growth and development which is quite crucial in the world we live in now that is very much affected by climate change.

To begin with, let me cite that the Philippines has committed to reforest at least 500,000 hectares with bamboo, as part of the one million hectares of designated areas—our country’s contribution to the ASEAN commitment of 20 million hectares of new forest by 2020 to improve the environment.

As an environmentalist and the current chairperson of the Philippine Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, that is a very important consideration. Among other reasons, that prompted me to file in the Philippine Senate, the “Bamboo Industry Act” (Senate Bill No. 716), to institutionalize the Philippine Bamboo Industry Development Program that will strengthen the government’s efforts in encouraging bamboo plantation, research on its development and utilization.

Under the proposal, the number of bamboo nurseries with quality and disease-free planting materials will be expanded. Investments in the bamboo development programs will also be promoted. Continuous training and capacity building in bamboo processing will also be provided. Furthermore, incentives to investors in plantation development and bamboo processing factories are also proposed including free rent of government land; tax-free importation of equipment and facilities; and provision of preferential rates and special window to bamboo farmers, producers, processors and exporters by the Land Bank of the Philippines.

This Senate bill I filed was tackled along with other bills on the subject filed by other Senators and we came out with a consolidated bill called the “Philippine Bamboo Industry Development Act of 2017” (PhiBIDA or Senate Bill No. 1478), which seeks to institutionalize bamboo industry development in our country by creating the Bamboo Industry Research and Development Center (BIRDC).

Under the consolidated Senate Bill,  we will draft and establish a Philippine Bamboo Industry Development Roadmap. It will put in place programs and projects to set in motion all aspects of the development of the bamboo industry—from R&D and propagation/breeding to marketing and investments.  Among others, it will also encourage bamboo backyard farming and expand the number of bamboo nurseries.

Wearing my other hat, as the chairperson of the Philippine Senate’s Committee on Agriculture and Food, I am supporting bamboo industries, primarily because bamboo is a cash crop for Filipino farmers and can be a good source of income and livelihood of poor communities, particularly in rural areas in our country.

The Philippine government and Filipino environmentalists are well aware of the benefits that bamboo can provide, which also prompted the issuance of Executive Order (EO) No. 879 that created the Philippine Bamboo Industry Development Council (PBIDC) in 2010. Among others, it directs the use of bamboo for at least 25 percent of the desk and other furniture requirements of public elementary and secondary schools in our country, as well as prioritizing the use of bamboo in furniture, fixtures and other construction requirements of government facilities.

EO No. 879 also mandates Local Government Units’ (LGUs) support to promote and establish bamboo plantations, crafts and products in cities. An increasing number of LGUs in the Philippines have established their own bamboo plantation. Among which is the local government of Maasin in Iloilo that is considered as the bamboo capital of the Philippines, which I had the chance to see for myself. They have about 4,000 hectares of bamboo, which they have been working on further developing to help bamboo farmers and grow its potential to increase business opportunities and create more jobs for the people.

The people there are also extremely proud of their expertise in bamboo splitting, weaving sawali (bamboo mats) and producing various products from bamboo such as barbecue sticks, chopsticks, toothpicks and bamboo charcoal that they supply to big fast food chains.

The EO also encourages the planting of bamboo in flood and landslide prone areas as part of mitigation efforts of climate change and disaster management; as well as in idle and marginalized agricultural lands, upland areas particularly covered by the Community-Based Forest Management (CBFM) and the resettlement of informal settlers from vital waterways.

The Philippine Government has also put in place a National Greening Program (NGP) through Executive Order No. 26, issued in 2011.  It mandated the planting of some 1.5 billion trees (including bamboo) covering 1.5 million hectares from 2011 to 2016.

After it was assessed that the six-year implementation of the program was not enough given the growing threat of climate change, the  coverage of the national greening program was expanded through Executive Order No. 193 issued in 2015. The expanded coverage includes all the remaining 7.1 million hectares of unproductive, denuded and degraded forestlands and the period of implementation was likewise extended from 2016 to 2028. So, we have a decade more to implement it. So, all the related roadmap regarding bamboo and rattan will be aligned with the program as well.

To complement the above-mentioned Executive Orders, the Philippine government likewise issued Memorandum Circular No. 30 series of 2012, which directs the full implementation of the Philippine Bamboo Industry Development  (PBID) Program. Under this Memorandum Circular, the PBID Council and the DENR, as the lead agency for the National Greening Program (NGP), are directed to harmonize the PBID Program with the NGP and identify areas of cooperation and convergence; it also enjoined all departments, agencies and instrumentalities of the national government, state universities and colleges (SUCs), government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) and local government units (LGUs) to support the full implementation of the PBID Program.

Personally, you can say, I have been a big fan of bamboos and its various applications and great potential in various areas—from furniture, architecture, infrastructure, among many more. So much so that I have been incorporating bamboos in particular in many of my projects and advocacies.

Part of my projects as the then congresswoman of my home city of Las Pinas is to plant and propagate bamboos.  It has truly helped our environment—it prevented soil erosion especially near our riverbanks. We specifically chose two suitable varieties:  the Philippine Giant Bamboo and Kawayang Tinik. As you know, bamboo has many advantages over hardwood trees as an erosion control measure, one of which is that its roots remain healthy even when the poles are harvested.

We also put a Bambusetum, a protected area where 70 varieties of bamboo are grown and showcased. It serves several purposes: first, as a riverside park; second, as part of erosion control measure; and third, as a means in educating people about various bamboo species. No other city in Metro Manila has a Bambusetum.

We have built another Bambusetum in the Las Piñas-Parañaque Wetland Park, a Ramsar-listed Wetland of International Importance, along Manila Bay in partnership with Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Laguna Lake Development Authority. I am also planning to publish a book on the Collection of Bamboo Species Endemic in the Philippines, including the 70 species of bamboos that can be found in Las Pinas City.

We have volunteers in our city that have planted over 11,000 bamboo culms covering 20 kilometers of our river banks. To maintain the plantations, we linked the needs of one traditional cottage industry of Las Piñas.  We have set-up a “Bamboo Stewardship Program” wherein we awarded the members of the Samahang Magpaparol (lantern makers) ng Las Piñas with certificates of stewardship over 10 culms of bamboo each. The lantern-makers, have the benefit of harvesting the poles to use them as raw materials in traditional lantern-making existing in Las Piñas for three generations, provided that they ensure that they continuously nurture and replenish any harvested culms.

To support them, I set up the Las Piñas Parol Center, which serves as a training area for the lantern-makers. We do this to promote the industry to neighboring cities and to help the lantern-makers market their products. I am happy to share that this Center is already self-sustaining.

Early this year, I have also inaugurated the bamboo processing factory that our foundation (Villar Social Institute for Poverty Alleviation) has built, to also help spur the bamboo industry’s growth. Initially, it will produce home stairs to provide more jobs and livelihood to residents in our city.  We have also a farm school in Las Piñas and we are teaching bamboo propagation, nursery and plantation management, which are essential to develop our supply of raw materials. Our TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) accredited schools will now be teaching bamboo propagation, nursery and plantation development in all the farm schools in the Philippines. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and DOST (Department of Science and Technology) will be teaching processing of bamboo in our country.

Admittedly, there is really a need to aggressively promote the product development and market access of bamboo and rattan products to sustain the development of the bamboo and rattan industry all over our respective countries and all over the region as well.

Indeed, ASEAN member states should work together, share best practices as well as expertise, mobilize resources, enhance trade and, develop and implement policy frameworks. Having said that, we also welcome the recommendation to join forces with INBAR and its member states towards the realization of our collective goals. We have so much to learn from each other when we cooperate, collaborate and coordinate. After all, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) involve all of us. Thus, working together is the best option there is.

On that note, thank you for listening and I am looking forward to our further discussions in this session and during the rest of this congress.