DEPARTMENT of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Gina Lopez vowed Tuesday to provide alternative livelihood to mine workers who were displaced by the suspension of mining companies, which failed to meet environmental and safety standards.
Lopez explained that the capital-intensive extractive industry is not labor-intensive, citing only 250,000 Filipino workers are employed in the industry or 0.6 percent of total employment in the country.
The industry currently consists of 40 large-scale metallic mining companies, 65 non-metallic firms, and an estimated 300,000 small-scale and illegal operations throughout the country, she said.
“This is how unsustainability manifests itself. Irresponsible mining has a perverse vicious cycle: mining businesses produce mining-related jobs for affected communities. Obviously, communities stay long after mining operations close down. The people are not given sustainable livelihoods that outlive mining,” Lopez said.
She said the DENR could tap the displaced workers for the National Greening Program (NGP) as part of the agency’s move to shift focus from being a regulatory arm to a more development-driven agency that will utilize its resources to pave the way for sustainable development.
A flagship reforestation program of the agency, the NGP is geared to cover 1.6 million hectares with trees by the end of 2016. The forest rehabilitation initiative also doubles as an anti-poverty measure due to its cash-for-work component.
In November last year, then President Benigno Aquino III issued an executive order creating the "Expanded NGP" in a bid to reforest “all remaining unproductive, denuded and degraded forestlands” from 2016 to 2028.
Lopez said the DENR is also eyeing other revenue streams as an alternative to mining such as developing ecotourism spots throughout the country citing the La Mesa Ecopark in Quezon City and Palawan as models.
La Mesa Ecopark reportedly generates P40 million in revenues annually while the government of Palawan generated P19 billion from tourism in 2015, steadily increasing every year.
“These are superb examples of ecotourism following the basic concept of preserving the country’s natural resources without extraction while generating revenues that can possibly beat the 1 percent of GDP (gross domestic product) the mining industry is giving the country,” she added.
“We will work with the tourism and agriculture department, as well as the trade industry to help jumpstart the economy using the country’s resources in an approach that is inclusive,” Lopez said. (SDR/Sunnex)