There’s a palpable sense of anticipation and excitement as newly installed Department of the Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ma. Antonia ‘Toni’ Yulo-Loyzaga begins her series of deep dives with the various divisions, bureaus and attached agencies of the Department.

DENR Secretary Ma. Antonina Yulo-Loyzaga

Anticipation, because Secretary Yulo-Loyzaga brings a wealth of administrative experience and solid connections to the scientific community; and excitement, because her work on sustainability, resilience, and climate change means she’s one with the DENR staff and personnel in ‘speaking their language’.  Tasked with governing and supervising the exploration, development, utilization, and conservation of our country’s natural resources; there’s always been a double-edged sword element to running this Department, a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ aspect. From the description of its tasks alone, this would be evident. Are you primarily conservationist or regulator – and if regulator, how hard do you proverbially ‘apply the brakes’ in the name of preservation and protection? And take note that from mining to protecting biodiversity sites and national parks, to air pollution from cars, and air and water pollution from industries, these will all fall under the purview of the DENR. During the recent SONA of President Bongbong Marcos, mention was made of ramping up the mining industry as part of the plan for our post-pandemic recovery. So Secretary Yulo-Loyzaga will be playing a crucial role in ensuring a scenario of ‘responsible’ ramping up will be achieved – balancing between the build up of mining operations and business development on one side, while our abiotic resources are still protected, and that the poor and economically-challenged communities aren’t sacrificed in the name of development, on the other side. Unlike other Departments where the benchmark for success may be more easily defined (for example, increasing exponentially the number of foreign visitors if you’re heading the Department of Tourism); the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources will always be more of a high-wire act of balancing interests, while juggling several balls at the same time – with the results and parameters for ‘a good job done’ occupying grey areas subject to interpretation, depending on which side of the fence you’re sitting on.  To her credit, Sec. Yulo-Loyzaga has a mother lode of experience that will hold her in good stead as she charts the course for the DENR. She was the Chairperson of the International Advisory Board of the Manila Observatory, where she served as former Executive Director from 2007-2016. During this period, she was appointed to the Department of Science and Technology’s Committee on Space Technology Applications and to the UNESCO National Commission’s Committee on Science and Technology. She was President 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 Paris Climate Agreement. She sat on the Senior Advisory Board of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Command Center and General Staff College; and was recognized for her contributions to the Philippine military’s emergency disaster response operations during Typhoon Haiyan. She holds an M.A. in Government, International Relations from Georgetown University. And she can trace back to the early 2000’s and her participating in a Disaster Management and Poverty Study, this avid passion for linking science-based research and data, with decision-making and policy formulation. And yes, Toni is married to that Chito Loyzaga, who all basketball and Ginebra fans of a certain age will remember fondly. 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 insights on our new DENR Secretary.  He was half-joking when he said that work-life balance has never been an issue in the family, as it’s always been about work; recalling how so many dinner conversations would be about climate change and resilience – to the point where they actually enforced a temporary ban on those topics cropping up during dinner. Proud, he mentioned how the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, as the eldest has a post-graduate degree in Geography and Security, Joaquin has a post-graduate degree in urban planning, and the ‘bunso’ is completing her Masters in Psychology and Sociology/Media. After spending years working with the BCDA, and then private practice, Joaquin has now joined the DENR. Regarding the deep dives with the DENR attached agencies, Sec. Toni had to first say how impressed she was with the giving and dedicated women and men at the Department, and how technically capable they are. What she’s now hoping to establish is a single lens approach to the issues – whether it be climate risk, the ecosystem of forests and coastal areas, issues pertaining to ocean and land management, and on to ownership and use of land resources. She’s well aware that the real question will be which use has primacy, how to bring about development in a sustainable way, and to be always conscious of, and vigilant about, who or what is in harm’s way.  We both accept that this is all easier said than done. In the doing, it’s data and research that she would like to rule, so that any decisions made are informed. So we can deal with ‘the plausible, and not just the possible’. Where the 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. How will the rise in sea levels impact these concentrations of our population? So many are dependent on these cities, and she points to the movement of people from Samar and Masbate to Bataan, and forming seaside communities, as a trend we should be conscious about, and planning for – how leadership has to deal with these movements.  Sec. Toni Yulo-Loyzaga is the first to say she’s not an expert in Mining. But pooling together the academe and the practical, she’s putting a DENR Advisory Council together. An Australian study refers to the Philippines as presently the 5th most mineralized country in the world, so there’s a lot of potential for development there; but the challenge is how to do this with the triple R mantra of Rehabilitation, Restoration, and Regeneration in place – that is the challenge. Speaking of triple R’s, it comes up again as we speak about ecosystem analysis vis-a-vis political boundaries. The DENR approach would be to consider Ridge, River, Reef in data gathering and understanding watershed movement and impact. But if you chart the course of a river, it will make incursions across several LGU’s (i.e. political boundaries), and the concern of one LGU may not necessarily be that of the next LGU. For Sec. Toni Yulo-Loyzaga this will be another one of the practical applications of the single lens focus that hopefully, the DENR can promote, and possibly, take the lead on. (There’s a third triple R, that of Waste Management, and it’s mantra of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.) On issues where Science has to blend with politics or big business, this is where the experience she brings to the table can pay off. Sec. Yulo-Loyzaga is set on making Science inclusive, infusing it into policy-making. It’s now being brought into an arena where context is everything; and primary here is using reliable, current data, understanding it, and then letting it work for us. For Sec. Toni, it’s about making decisions and policy for the here and now, without losing sight of how it will impact the future, and the legacy we leave for future generations.  On the lighter side, I close by asking if she’s met Toni Gonzaga and whether they’ve laughed about how social media mistakenly thought it was Ms. Gonzaga (and not Loyzaga) who was appointed to head the DENR. Sec. Toni was unaware of this confusion; and Joaquin starts laughing, explaining to his mother that it did trend on social media, but that thankfully, she was oblivious to this.  There’s a mountain of a task up ahead for Sec. Toni Yulo-Loyzaga; but given her track record for successfully working with both the public and private sectors, and putting them together in one table, and arriving at a consensus – we can be very assured of her conviction, capabilities, and acumen. Her success is linked with the success of the nation in forging a responsible path to development, recovery, Resilience, and Sustainability. 

Source: Manila Bulletin (