"We're all in this together."

Thus said newly installed Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu as he called for solidarity in protecting the country's environment and natural resources during the turnover ceremony held at the DENR central office in Quezon City on Wednesday.

Cimatu, the 16th DENR Secretary since the agency was reorganized in 1987, said environmental protection requires teamwork among those in the DENR, various stakeholders and the general public.

"I cannot do this alone, President Duterte cannot do this alone. We need all hands on deck," Cimatu said in a speech after the DENR leadership was formally transferred to him by outgoing Secretary Gina Lopez.

The new DENR chief specifically mentioned "the men and women of the DENR from the senior officials at the central office to the rangers, foresters, geologists and even janitors on the ground."

He also mentioned the various clients of the DENR, including big and small businesses and all households, as well as agency's international partners.

"We have to work together as a team. With teamwork, we can do so much more in accomplishing the critical responsibilities we carry on our shoulders," he pointed out.

According to Cimatu, his appointment to the DENR has caught him "completely by surprise."

In a gesture of humility, Cimatu asked that he be given time to fully grasp the DENR and all its functions.

He admitted that the DENR is a completely different field for him since he has been known as a former chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and later as special envoy for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

"Here I am wading in into a field far removed from soldiery. That is why you will please excuse me if I ask that I be given time to scan and study the terrain in an agency which impacts considerably on our very life as a people and the future of our beloved Philippines," Cimatu said.

Meanwhile, Cimatu was all praises to Lopez, saying he wished he could approximate her passion for the environment.

He described his predecessor as a "very passionate and ardent advocate of environmental protection and inclusive growth."

The former military chief said his entry to the DENR was "even more challenging" as it came right after the "very heated confirmation debates" involving Lopez.

Nevertheless, Cimatu said he will try to do his best as "President Duterte's point man in the daunting task of protecting our environment in all its forms."

He vowed to promote the "wise and proper use" of the country's natural resources "for the public good."

Prior to his appointment as DENR Secretary, Cimatu served as the 29th AFP chief of staff in 2002.

In the 1980s, Cimatu was sent to Northern Panay as Batallion Commander in Aklan province, which was then under the heavy influence of the New People’s Army (NPA).

At that time, the highway of the northern towns, especially in Ibajay, was heavily infested by the NPA. The highway was also a gateway to the present-day Boracay Island, to which his successful efforts to clear the area from threats led to the development of the top tourist destination spot in the country today.

He also became a Brigade Commander in Davao, Cotabato, and Sarangani, where he was promoted as a one-star general after his troops successfully rescued four hostages kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf. ###