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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Momentous journey with environmentalist Gen. Velasco

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It was a continuing streak from his prior tour of duty in the ARMM PRO, ranked 16, when he assumed office and made it No. 1 in 1996

As the country celebrates Philippine Environment Month, I recall snippets of my momentous journey with a fellow environmentalist, the three-star ranked Police Deputy Director General Reynaldo V. Velasco (ret.), not a blood relative, who recently celebrated his 75th milestone.

He is also Million Trees Foundation, Inc. Chairman Emeritus and called GRVV or Gen Rey by friends and MTFI staff – by coincidence this year the MTFI is marking its third anniversary.

Last month, as part of its anniversary activities, MTFI feted institutional partners with a thanksgiving dinner at the SMC Multi Purpose Center called Eddie’s Barn in the Million Trees Eco Learning Center inside the La Mesa Watershed compound, Quezon City.

My friendship with him, which bloomed 23 years ago, reminds me of Chinese Confucian philosopher Mencius (372 BC-289 BC), quoted as saying “Friends are the siblings God never gave us.”

I consider GRVV a kuya – a term for an elder brother in Pangasinan where we both come from – whose counsel I always seek out and respect.

He acknowledges my expertise in communications and media and respects my position on varied issues in the same manner I respect his.

He was assigned in 1997 as Regional Director of PRO 1, the region which includes Pangasinan, and his stint won for him and his successor then Col. Amado T. Espino Jr. the Best Regional Office Award.

It was a continuing streak from his prior tour of duty in the ARMM PRO, ranked 16, when he assumed office and made it No. 1 in 1996.

It was at PRO 1 when I worked with him in publishing the COPs magazine which we published for a year until the tenure of Chief PNP Gen. Leandro Mendoza in 2001.

My alliance with him was further reinforced because of President Fidel V. Ramos, also from Pangasinan.

It was Col. Rey Velasco who organized the PC Special Action Force, now known as PNP SAF, with him as its first battalion commander, which played a crucial role in the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution.

Post EDSA Revolution, RVV, known as “Provider 6” in the FVR circle, worked with other SAF officers under FVR’s tutelage.

He was among the heroes in EDSA Dos with Gen. Larry Mendoza and Gen. Rex Piad who worked under the wings of Gen. Renato de Villa that launched the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whose mother is from Binalonan, Pangasinan.

GRVV’s next assignment was as NCRPO Director from 2002-2003 when he was responsible for the security of visiting US President George Bush.

As his media handler when he was NCRPO chief, PGMA made him sort of spokesman for the PNP.

On account of his alliance with then Executive Secretary Renato de Villa who openly expressed his support for Senator Raul Roco for the 2004 presidential elections, GRVV became a political victim despite being the most senior and qualified to become Chief PNP.

He was put in a freezer, 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 on May 22, 2005, getting 122 professional awards and was twice recipient of the Cavalier Award from the Philippine Military Academy.

In his different posts, I had the opportunity of working with him, particularly in the communications area.

My engagement in the publishing industry enabled me to meet frequently with him, a co-author with me and former DILG Secretary Raffy Alunan of the book “Silver Linings: 25 Years of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution,” published in 2012 by Media Touchstone Ventures, Inc.

We traveled together with FVR and Raffy Alunan to nine cities in the US for a road show in 2013 to promote the book.

I would also see him at the Ramos Peace and Development Foundation, Inc. office in Makati whenever I met with FVR to discuss book projects.

MTVi has published 18 books on the family of the former President which included biographies of his parents and wife, Amelita Ramos, as well as books on RPDEV.

After GRVV retired, he was elected mayor of his hometown, Sta. Barbara, Pangasinan and served from 2007-2010. He also ventured into farming in San Juan, Batangas where he started developing his 5-hectare farm in the early ‘80s.

FVR recommended GRVV’s appointment as Administrator of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System by then President Rodrigo Duterte.

As MWSS Administrator and Chairman, his enduring legacies included crafting a 35-year water security roadmap consisting of water infrastructure projects like 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. Credit must be given to SMC President Ramon S. Ang for this landmark project whose friendship with GRVV goes back to the ‘90s.

At MWSS, the water concession agreements were renegotiated that paved the way for a stable and enduring partnership among MWSS and its two concessionaires, Maynilad led by President Ramoncito S. Fernandez and Manila Water now headed by President Jocot de Dios.

I had the privilege of working with GRVV while he was MWSS Administrator and Chairman as a consultant.

When 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. By June 23, 2017, the Annual Million Trees Challenge was launched at the Ipo Dam in Bulacan.

GRVV resigned from MWSS on Oct. 1, 2021 to try his luck in the Legislature. At present, he is actively working for the benefit of veterans with his involvement in veterans’ organizations like FilVets where he now serves as Chairman.

He currently sits in the Board of Veterans Bank as Director.

In March 2021, he advised me to invite other environment protection advocates to form the Million Trees Foundation, Inc.whose main objective is to ensure the AMTC is sustained.

Our tree-planting and tree-growing activities are on target, having planted 5.2 million trees from 2017 to 2022.

To date, over seven million trees have been planted since 2017 and we hope to plant additional 10 million more trees or 15 million trees planted under AMTC project by 2030.

On May 21, GRVV acknowledged AMTC was my brainchild, adding 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 in government and the private sector. This humility in leadership is among 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 GRVV.

In her remarks, she expressed her gratitude to her former senior for the continuing guidance and counsel he is giving the MWSS. She said such counsel will always be treasured.

Recognized during the thanksgiving dinner were SMC and 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.

(The author. book author and publisher, is president/chief executive officer of Media Touchstone Ventures, Inc. and president/executive director of the Million Trees Foundation Inc., a non-government outfit advocating tree-planting and environmental protection.)

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