DENR Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga – Manila Bulletin
There is a palpable sense of anticipation and excitement as the new Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Ma. Antonia ‘Toni’ Yulo-Loyzaga begins his series of deep dives with the various divisions, offices and attached agencies of the Department.
Anticipation, because the secretary Yulo-Loyzaga brings a wealth of administrative experience and solid relations with the scientific community; and enthusiasm, because her work on sustainability, resilience and climate change means she is one with DENR staff and staff to ‘speak their language’. Responsible for governing and supervising the exploration, development, utilization and conservation of our country’s natural resources; there has always been a double-edged sword in running this department, a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” aspect. From the description of his duties alone, this would be obvious. Are you primarily an environmentalist or a regulator – and if a regulator, how proverbially “apply the brakes” in the name of conservation and protection? And note that from mining to protecting biodiversity sites and national parks, to air pollution from cars and air and water pollution from industries, it all will fall under the jurisdiction of the DENR. During President Bongbong Marcos’ recent SONA, mention was made of the ramping up of the mining industry as part of our post-pandemic recovery plan. Secretary Yulo-Loyzaga will therefore play a crucial role in ensuring that a “responsible” ramp-up scenario is achieved – balancing the ramp-up of mining operations and business development on the one hand, while our abiotic resources are always protected, and that poor and economically disadvantaged communities are not sacrificed in the name of development, on the other side. Unlike other departments where the benchmark for success can be more easily set (eg exponentially increasing the number of foreign visitors if you run the tourism department); the Department of Environment and Natural Resources will always be more of a high-flying act of balancing interests, while juggling multiple balls at the same time – with “good job done” outcomes and parameters occupying prone gray areas interpretable, depending on which side of the fence you’re sitting on. To his credit, Sec. Yulo-Loyzaga has a wealth of experience that will hold her in good stead as she charts a course for the DENR. She served as Chair of the International Advisory Board of the Manila Observatory, where she served as Executive Director from 2007 to 2016. During this period, she was appointed to the Space Technology Applications Committee of the Department of Science and Technology and to the Science and Technology Committee of the National Commission for UNESCO. She served as Chair of the Philippine Disaster Resilience Council – a science and technology-based public-private partnership aimed at the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Accord of Paris on the climate. She has served on the Senior Advisory Board of the Command Center and Staff College of the Armed Forces of the Philippines; and was recognized for her contribution to the Philippine Army’s emergency disaster response operations during Typhoon Haiyan. She holds a master’s degree in government and international relations from Georgetown University. And it can be traced back to the early 2000s and his participation in a study on disaster management and poverty, that avid passion for linking scientific research and data, with decision making and policy formulation. And yes, Toni is married to this Chito Loyzaga, which all basketball and Ginebra fans of a certain age will fondly remember. Toni and Chito have three children, two daughters, sandwiching their son, Joaquin. Joaquin was with Toni during this interview; and thanks to him, we have some personal ideas about our new DENR secretary. He was half-joking when he said that work-life balance has never been an issue in the family, because it’s always been about work; recalling how many dinner conversations would be about climate change and resilience – to the point where they actually imposed a temporary ban on those topics popping up over dinner. Proud, he mentioned that the fruit does not fall far from the tree, because the eldest has a graduate degree in geography and security, Joaquin has a graduate degree in urban planning and the “bunso” is finishing his mastery. in psychology and sociology/media. After spending years working with the BCDA and then in private practice, Joaquin has now joined the DENR. With respect to deep dives with agencies attached to the DENR, Sec. Toni first had to say how impressed she was with the generous and dedicated men and women of the Department, and how technically capable they were. What she now hopes to establish is a single-lens approach to issues – whether it be climate risk, forest and coastal ecosystem, issues related to ocean management and land, and the ownership and use of land resources. She is well aware that the real question will be which use takes precedence, how to foster development in a sustainable way, and to always be aware and vigilant as to who or what is at risk. We both agree that all of this is easier said than done. In doing so, it is data and research that she would like to govern, so that all decisions made are informed. Thus, we can deal with “the plausible, not just the possible”. Where data, such as climate models, are constantly updated. For example, Sec. Yulo-Loyzaga offers coastal ecosystems and how so many important cities and urban centers in our country are coastal. What will be the impact of sea level rise on these concentrations of our population? So many people depend on these towns, and she points to the movement of people from Samar and Masbate to Bataan, and the formation of seaside communities, as a trend that we should be aware of and plan for – how leadership should manage these movements. Second. Toni Yulo-Loyzaga is the first to say that she is not a mining expert. But by pooling academics and practice, she set up an advisory council for the DENR. An Australian study refers to the Philippines as currently the 5th most mineralized country in the world, so there is a lot of potential for development there; but the challenge is how to do it with the triple R mantra of rehabilitation, restoration and regeneration in place – that is the challenge. Speaking of triple R, it comes up when we talk about ecosystem analysis versus political boundaries. The DENR approach would be to consider Ridge, River, Reef in collecting data and understanding watershed movement and impact. But if you trace the course of a river, it will make inroads across multiple LGUs (i.e. political borders), and the concern of one LGU will not necessarily be that of the next LGU. For the sec. Toni Yulo-Loyzaga, this will be another of the practical applications of single-lens focusing that hopefully the DENR can promote and eventually support. (There’s a third triple R, that of waste management, and that’s the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra.) On issues where science needs to meddle with politics or big business, it’s where the experience she brings to the table can pay off. Second. Yulo-Loyzaga is committed to making science inclusive, integrating it into policy-making. He is now brought into an arena where context is everything; and the main thing here is to use reliable and current data, understand it, and then let it work for us. For the sec. Toni, it is about making decisions and policies for the here and now, without losing sight of their impact on the future and the legacy we will leave for future generations. On the lighter side, I end by asking if she met Toni Gonzaga and if they laughed at how social media mistakenly thought it was Ms. Gonzaga (not Loyzaga) who had been named head of the DENR. Second. Toni ignored this confusion; and Joaquin starts laughing, explaining to his mother that it was trending on social media, but luckily she was unaware of it. There’s a mountain of work for Sec to do. Toni Yulo-Loyzaga; but given his track record of working successfully with the public and private sectors, bringing them to a table and building consensus – we can be very confident in his conviction, ability and insight. Its success is tied to the nation’s success in forging a responsible path to development, recovery, resilience and sustainability.
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