A geospatial database office in DENR keeps an eye on Philippine environment

Iya Gozum

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A geospatial database office in DENR keeps an eye on Philippine environment

MAN-MADE FOREST. A man-made forest in Bohol, Philippines.

The National Natural Resource Geospatial Database would help the DENR monitor conservation efforts and exploitative activities in the environment

MANILA, Philippines – A new geospatial database office in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) seeks to map and monitor the natural resources of the country, including ongoing mining activities and the reforestation initiatives, using satellite imagery.

The National Natural Resource Geospatial Database (GDO), created in February, is manned by a lean team of 10 people under the office of Undersecretary for Integrated Environmental Science Carlos Primo David.

Environment Secretary Toni Yulo-Loyzaga said in a Malacañang press conference on June 27, that the GDO makes sure resources are accounted for, valued, and managed properly. Loyzaga said this is what it means to establish a “physical baseline.”

The secretary gave examples of what the GDO is doing, such as identifying the actual forest cover of the Philippines, checking idle lands that can be repurposed, and determining if there are protected areas within mineral resources or vice versa.

In a phone interview with Rappler, David expounded more on these efforts.

David said one of the tasks of the GDO is monitoring activities in mining exploration sites. David said the department already has a map of all approved exploration areas for mineral resource, and that what they are doing now is to make sure that “there is no mining happening.”

Another example is the monitoring of the DENR’s reforestation efforts. “We have reports that reforestation was done in a particular area,” David told Rappler. “We now use the same tools to look at satellite imagery to look at whether these are really reforested.”

With the tools employed by the GDO, they found out that there are certain areas where the deforestation rate exceed reforestation efforts.


David said the new office aims to prove that expanding the department’s toolset to protect the environment can be done with little budget.

“We did not request any new funding from government because we are only 10 people in the office doing the whole national mapping of our resources,” David said.

He said the resources required are not expensive as the GDO makes use of free satellite images and software already being used by the DENR. For this year, they had allotted the office a total budget of P3 million.

“That’s what we wanted to prove. [We] can do accounting without having to invest too much money,” David said.

David said the tools would make their work on biodiversity conservation and reforestation more efficient at little cost. “In reforestation projects, we can check first if the location is appropriate before we plant the trees,” he said in a mix of Filipino and English.

Determining locations – and the area’s land attributes such as elevation and soil moisture – is crucial to ensure that trees will thrive. In effect, money allocated for huge reforestation sites will not be wasted.

As the DENR continues the mapping initiative, David said they hope other government agencies also put up their own spatial offices as their database only covers the department’s purview.

Natural capital accounting

With the GDO’s data, the DENR is now one step closer to a natural capital accounting of the country’s resources – one of Loyzaga’s priority projects. This would help shape the Marcos administration’s agenda, Loyzaga said in 2022.

Loyzaga also believed that data from this system can aid in policymaking on sustainable development and climate and disaster resilience. 

The DENR has expressed support for the bill poised to institutionalize the Philippine Ecosystem and Natural Capital Accounting System (PENCAS) – a system “accounting the full value of the country’s natural assets that contribute to economic development.” 

“We have long valuated only our assets such as exports, buildings, and roads, and even our manpower,” But we never valuated our natural resources,” said David.

Senators Loren Legarda, Ramon Revilla, and Joel Villanueva had filed separate bills on PENCAS. Negros Occidental 3rd District Representative Jose Francisco Benitez filed the counterpart measure in the House of Representatives. –

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Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum covers the environment, agriculture, and science beats for Rappler.