Columns Environment & Climate

The Outsider (Melandrew T. Velasco): Journey with GRVV and Million Trees Foundation

As the country celebrates Philippine Environment Month, let me take this opportunity to write about my journey with a fellow environmentalist who recently celebrated a milestone in his life: Million Trees Foundation, Inc. Chairman Emeritus PDDG Gen. Reynaldo V. Velasco (ret), fondly called RVV by friends and MTFI staff.

Coincidentally, this year the Million Trees Foundation, Inc. (MTFI) is marking its third anniversary. Last month, as part of its anniversary activities, MTFI feted institutional partners with a thanksgiving dinner at Eddie’s Barn in the Million Trees Eco Learning Center located inside the La Mesa Watershed compound, Quezon City. MTFI deemed it fitting to toast RVV on the same occasion.

I have always regarded RVV as my brother although we are not related by blood. My friendship with him reminds me of a quote from Chinese philosopher Mencius that goes: “Friends are the siblings God never gave us”. I consider RVV a kuya I respect and whose advices I seek. We have a symbiotic relationship. He acknowledges my expertise and respects my position in issues in the same manner that I respect his.

It was 27 years ago when was my friendship with RVV began. He was assigned in 1997 as Regional Director of PRO 1, the region where my hometown is located.  His stint in the Pangasinan-Ilocos PRO won for him the Best Regional Commander Award. It was a complete turnaround from his prior tour of duty in the ARMM PRO which was ranked No. 16 that time.  It was during his assignment at PRO 1 when I worked with him in publishing the COPs magazine which we continued publication for a year until the tenure of Chief PNP Gen. Leandro Mendoza.

My alliance with him was further reinforced because of President Fidel V. Ramos (FVR). While still AFP Vice Chief of Staff and Chief of the Philippine Constabulary/Integrated National Police, he organized the PC Special Action Force (SAF), now known as PNP SAF. Its first battalion commander was RVV. The SAF would play a crucial role in the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution. Post EDSA Revolution, RVV worked with other SAF officers under the tutelage of FVR. RVV was known as “Provider 6” in the FVR circle.

In 2001-2002, RVV was PNP Comptroller and during this time when my affinity with him was cemented. His next assignment was as NCRPO Director from 2002-2003 during which time, he was responsible for the security of visiting US President George Bush. He then served as Executive Director of the Philippine Center on Transnational Crime. He was Deputy Chief PNP for Operations and Administration prior to his retirement from the police organization. He received a total of 122 professional awards and twice recipient of the Cavalier Award from the Philippine Military Academy.

In the different positions he held, I had the opportunity of working with RVV, helping him in the communications area. My engagement in the publishing industry enabled me to meet with him frequently as he co-authored Silver Linings, a book my outfit, Media Touchstone Ventures, Inc. (MTVi) published. We travelled together with FVR to the US for a road show to promote the book.

I would also see him at the Ramos Peace and Development Foundation, Inc. (RPDev) office in Makati whenever I met with FVR to discuss book projects. MTVi has published books on the family of the former President to include biographies of his parents and wife, Mrs. Amelita Ramos.

After his retirement, RVV was elected mayor of his hometown, Sta. Barbara, Pangasinan and served from 2007-2010. He also ventured into farming. He is actively working for the benefit of veterans with his involvement in veterans’ organizations such as FilVets.  He currently sits in the Board of Veterans Bank as Director.

It was upon the recommendation of FVR that RVV was appointed Administrator of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) by President Rodrigo Duterte.

 As MWSS Administrator, among his legacy was the crafting of a water security roadmap that consisted of water infrastructure projects such as East Bay Laguna Lake Water Source, Marikina River Infiltration Gallery Plus Portable Treatment Plant, Construction of Modular Mobile Water Treatment Plant in Cavite, Wawa Bulk Water Supply Project.

It was during his stint with the MWSS when the Bulacan Bulk Water Supply Project was completed, the first major water infrastructure project completed under the Duterte Administration; and when the water concession agreements were renegotiated.

Again, I had the privilege of working with RVV while he was MWSS Administrator as a consultant. I broached the idea of a reforestation program that would benefit the critical watersheds vital to the water supply in Metro Manila and other MWSS coverage areas. He was receptive to the idea that by June 23, 2017the Annual Million Trees Challenge was launched at the Ipo Dam in Bulacan.

RVV resigned from MWSS to try his luck in the Legislature.  In 2022, he joined me and other environment protection advocates to form the Million Trees Foundation, Inc. (MTFI).  MTFI’s main objective is to ensure that the AMTC is sustained. We are proud to share that our tree-planting and tree-growing activities are on target. To date, over seven million trees have been planted and we hope to plant 10 million more trees by 2030.

During the said event, RVV was modest to acknowledge that AMTC was my brainchild, adding that the MTFI and the improvements at the leased land were also my ideas. Seldom does one witness a demonstration of humility from someone who has occupied top posts both in government and the private sector. Perhaps this humility in leadership is one of the factors that make RVV approachable and likable to employees.  Current MWSS Administrator Leonor Cleofas who just arrived from an official trip to Bali, Indonesia went straight to Eddie’s Barn to show the agency’s appreciation to RVV. In her remarks, she expressed her gratitude to her former superior for the guidance and advices he is giving the MWSS. These advices, she said, will always be treasured.

Recognized during the thanksgiving dinner were SMC’s Bulacan Bulk Water Supply, Manila Water, Maynilad, Sta. Clara International Corporation, MWSS Corporate Office, MWSS Regulatory Office, Grundfos, and QBE, among others.  SMC is a consistent supporter of MTFI with its annual endowment to the Foundation. The MWSS has granted a portion of the La Mesa Watershed compound for the use of MTFI as satellite office with its Eco Learning Center and Nursery.

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