The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) wants to tap displaced workers of suspended mining firms for the planned expansion of bamboo and mangrove plantations to fight climate change and poverty.
During a recent dialogue with small-scale miners from Paracale town in Camarines Norte held at the DENR central office in Quezon City, Environment Secretary Gina Lopez said the miners should get involved in more sustainable livelihood such as bamboo planting, which does not only help the environment but also protect their families from the negative impacts of climate change.
“Help us by growing bamboo and mangrove seedlings. We will fund it, but your earnings will be your own,” Lopez said.
The miners, who were accompanied by acting Camarines Norte Gov. Jonah Pimentel and some members of the provincial board, sought an audience with the DENR chief to ask assistance for mine workers who lost their jobs as a result of the environmental audit conducted on all metallic mining operations in the country.
Lopez told miners and local government officials that she could not allow small-scale mining for the moment because it uses mercury that threatens the environment and public health.
“Small-scale mining is illegal, and you don’t want to be caught or have the Ombudsman bar you from public service forever. I cannot help you if it is illegal,” Lopez said.
In October, the DENR ordered a stop to all small-scale mining operations, effectively stopping 60 percent of gold production in the country.
Lopez said that all small-scale mining activities operating outside the so-called Minahang Bayan are illegal, saying that they should stop immediately or face the full force of the law.
Lopez was reacting to complaints by a big mining lobby, saying that the new DENR chief focuses more on large-scale mining and seemingly neglected the existence of illegal small-scale mining operations that is causing more harm to people and the environment.
To date, the DENR has yet to announce the number of small-scale mining operations that have been shut down.
All small-scale mining activities are illegal under the DENR’s revised implementing rules and regulations of Republic Act No. 7076, or the Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991.
The revised IRR aims to institutionalize and implement reforms in the Philippine mining sector, providing policies and guidelines to ensure environmental protection and responsible mining in the utilization of mineral resources, including the declaration of a Minahang Bayan.
A Minahang Bayan centralizes processing of minerals within a zone where the government will be able to monitor gold production by small-scale miners better.
With the IRR, the DENR looks forward to transforming the small-scale mining operations in the country into a formal and responsible sector that is able to significantly contribute to the improvement of the quality of life in the countryside.
The major features of the revised IRR include the provisions on additional areas that may be declared as Minahang Bayan, and confinement of engineered mineral processing activities with tailings disposal system within mineral processing zones, and imposition of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Assessment c overing each Minahang Bayan.
At present, there are only three existing Minahang Bayan nationwide with 10 new applications pending approval by the Mines and Geoscience Bureau.
There are about 300,000 to 400,000 small-scale miners operating in 40 mineral-rich provinces nationwide, majority of which operates outside the Minahang Bayan.
During a recent climate change conference in Morocco where she joined the Philippine delegation, Lopez said the country will embark on the massive expansion of mangrove and bamboo plantations to strengthen the ecological and economic resilience of local communities in the face of climate change and its devastating impact.
In 2010, an executive order was issued requiring the use of bamboo in at least 25 percent of the desk and furniture requirements of public schools, as well as its prioritization in furniture and other construction requirements of government facilities.
Considered as one of the fastest growing members of the grass family, bamboo is also known to sequester as much as 400 percent of carbon per unit area, while giving off 35 percent more oxygen than other trees.
While its resilience and flexibility have made it an important construction material for furniture and houses, its different parts are also a source of pulp and paper products, as well as fiber and food.
Mangroves, on the other hand, have been seen as natural barriers against storm surges while acting as habitats for various marine animals.
Both mangroves and bamboo can also stabilize embankments and prevent erosion brought about by sea level rise, which is one of the identified impacts of climate change.
Although Paracale is not one of the 29 areas the DENR has identified as a priority area for development, Lopez assured miners that the agency will provide them with livelihood assistance.
She also called on Governor Pimentel to help in the preparation of a work and financial plan that the DENR could use as basis for budgetary allocations and monitoring purposes.
“Plant bamboo. Plant mangroves. Identify marine sanctuaries. I want you to be the first to benefit from the resources that you can find in your area before others do. I will help you,” Lopez said.
In Congress, Deputy Speaker Sharon Garin filed a bill before the Committee on Agriculture and Food, which aims to promote the rapid, steady, and continuous integrated development and the growth of the Philippine Bamboo industry.
The Philippine Bamboo Industry Development Act of 2016 also known as House Bill 3357 aims to formulate a framework for development which will encompass site identification, scientific propagation and development, production support, and quality assurance for health and proper trading.
It also mandates the Department of Education to use bamboo in at least 25 percent of its annual school desk and armchair requirements for public elementary and secondary schools nationwide. It also directs the Department of Labor and Employment to implement Bamboo Livelihood Programs.
The Philippines is the fifth highest bamboo exporter in the world next only to China, EU, Indonesia, and Vietnam. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, woodcrafts and furniture exports, which include bamboo products, amounted to $254 million solely for the month of August.
The bamboo industry mostly contributes to the country’s gross domestic product through value-added products integrated with wood, cane and rattan articles. Despite its versatility, economic potentials, and environmental contributions, bamboo remains to be one of the underdeveloped industries in the country.
To fully harness its immense potential, the constraints to the industry’s growth and development need to be addressed, Garin said.
“We have to fully support bamboo farmers, producers, processors, and exporters with concrete policy actions and incentives to sustain the bamboo enterprises that they have started or to entice investors to go into the bamboo industry,” Garin said.
The return on investment on bamboo is a lot faster since it can be frequently harvested, making it an attractive and sustainable community project even for small farmers.