Manila, July 18, 2003 (MALAYA) Recognizing the rapid deforestation of tropical forests in many regions of the world, the US and the Philippines agreed to establish a funding mechanism to restore and maintain the Philippines' tropical forests.

The US government approved on June 27 the list of the nominated non-government organizations (NGOs), paving the way for the establishment of the Philippine Tropical Forest Conservation Board (PTFCB) and installation of its members.

The board is composed of government agencies led by the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Finance (DOF) including representatives from NGOs.

Board members include DENR Secretary Elisea G. Gozun and DOF Undersecretary Juanita D. Amatong. NGO representatives include the Eastern Samar Development Foundation, Foundation for Integrated Development Studies, Kabang Kalikasan ng Pilipinas, and Philippine Eagle Foundation.

For the US government, among the representatives are Ambassador Francis Ricciardone and Michael Yates of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Oath-taking of the PTFCB members will be witnessed by Ambassador Wendy Chameberlin, USAID's Assistant Administrator for the Asia/Near Asia Bureau.

Gozun said that the board would also look into activities concerning coastal and forest resource management and protection as well as illegal-logging issues and development of sustainable community-based enterprises.

"The protection of our forest resources does not rest on DENR alone. We need the support of local government units, local communities, and non-government organizations to effectively implement programs and projects geared towards sustainable means of conserving our tropical forests," Gozun added.

On September 19, 2002, the two countries inked a Debt Reduction Agreement and Tropical Forest Agreement (TFCA) that establishes a Philippine Tropical Forest Conservation Fund that will be administered by PTFCB.

Under the agreement, the Philippines will deposit in the fund payments for loans due to the US government for a period of 14 years and would guarantee some $.25 million or P421.5 million for forest conservation activities.

Grants will be provided to promote activities in protecting the country's tropical forests such as establishment and maintenance of parks and protected areas; development and implementation of sound natural resource management systems; training programs to increase scientific, technical, and managerial capabilities of concerned sectors in forest protection; restoration, protection, or sustainable use of diverse animal and plant species; research on medicinal uses of tropical forest plants; and livelihood opportunities for communities living in a tropical forest area.

The Philippines is the sixth country to benefit on the TFCA. Other beneficiaries include Bangladesh, Belize, El Salvador, Thailand, and Peru.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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