By Jonathan L. Mayuga - April 25, 2017
While Environment Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez has shown much enthusiasm in implementing her so-called area-development approach and biochar livelihood program, mining companies appear to be oblivious about it.
Ronald Recidoro, vice president for policy and planning of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP), which represents the mining industry’s big players, for one, said mining companies have not seen the program’s “blue print” and how the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) plans to implement the program in mining communities.
“There are a few mining companies that entered into an agreement with [the] DENR, but most are still unaware of the specifics,” he told the BusinessMirror in a telephone interview.
The DENR is aggressively promoting its concept of area development through the sustainable integrated area development (SIAD) and biochar program as part of its thrust to turn the DENR from a mere regulatory into a development agency.
Lopez, an environmental advocate who has ordered the closure or suspension of 28 operating mines so far as a result of a mining audit last year and cancellation of 75 mining contracts to protect watersheds, wants the agency to shift from a mere regulatory agency to a development-oriented one under her watch.
Recidoro said COMP member- companies and even players outside the group are not aware of the specifics as to mining companies’ would-be roles.
He said mining companies are willing to see Lopez’s plan in black and white for them to appreciate the shift.
“We’ve only heard about it from Secretary Lopez through the media. But we really still don’t know how it will help mining or the people in mining communities,” he said.
Likewise, he said the DENR chief’s plan to apply the biochar technology should be discussed thoroughly with mining companies.
“What I know about charcoal-making is it is produced by burning. So are we burning materials now to make charcoal? What’s the technology? Who is going to make biochar?” Recidoro said.
“Even if it works, it should not be monopolized in such a way that it will benefit one company or group,” he added.
Environmental groups under the Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) group are also unaware of the details of SIAD or biochar.
Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan-PNE said their group will request for an audience with Lopez to know more about SIAD and biochar. They said they need to know more as to how it will help boost the livelihood of rural folks, particularly in mining-affected areas.
“I’ve heard about it from Secretary Gina, but I still do not know the details of the program. Maybe we need to know more about it first,” Bautista said.
Kalikasan-PNE supports Lopez’s antimining stance and her proenvironment policy, such as the dismantling of fish cages in Laguna de Bay.
The group also supports Lopez’s idea of promoting social justice by giving premium to environmental protection and conservation, while promoting the welfare of the communities who seldom benefit while being at the losing end of destructive development projects.
The antimining group, Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), meanwhile, welcomes Lopez’s plan to implement SIAD.
Jaybee Garganera, national coordinator of ATM, said it is an “innovative approach” and is welcomed by many civil-society organizations (CSOs) and even local government.
“My impression is that there is a positive synergy and positive reaction from the departments of Health, Agriculture, Social Welfare and Development and even Education working together in specific geographic sites,” he said.
Garganera said he knows of the general framework of SIAD wherein the DENR will download programs in selected and specific sites, with the community and even local government units having broader and direct participation in managing their natural resources.
“This is very participatory. Even agencies outside [the] DENR welcome this approach,” he said.
According to Garganera, SIAD is popular among CSOs.
Garganera said he became familiar with SIAD because of his previous engagement with the Philippine Partnership for Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas, which implemented it as a main strategy for development from 2001 to 2006.
“That is why when Secretary Lopez mentioned about SIAD, I know what she’s talking about,” Garganera said.
However, he said he is still unaware of the details of how the DENR chief plans to execute SIAD.
“We plan to seek an audience with her about it to learn more,” Garganera added.
In an interview with Lopez during her interaction with mining-affected communities in Mogpog and Santa Cruz town in Marinduque on Monday, Lopez said area development simply means the people will be given jobs, livelihood and benefit from the natural resources, which they will protect and conserve.
Lopez said in rehabilitating abandoned or mined-out areas, biochar will be used by the DENR under her watch, but expressed concern that without former DENR Undercretary for Field Operations Philipp Camara, may prove to be a tough job.
“Only Philipp knows how to make biochar work. The DENR doesn’t know anything about biochar,” Lopez said. Camara’s appointment was rejected by the Civil Service Commission and a protest launched by DENR employees forced Camara to quit his bid for the position.
Lopez said she intends to talk to Camara to convince him to help the DENR in his capacity as a private individual.
Last month the DENR issued policy guidelines for the two major programs—the SIAD and biochar programs—which it says were “designed to provide communities with sustainable livelihood opportunities while protecting the environment”.
Department Administrative Order (DAO) 2017-02 calls for the formulation and implementation of a six-year SIAD action plan by the government, civil society and the private sector, and DAO 2017-05 laid down the guidelines on the implementation of the biochar program, an initiative that uses the SIAD approach.
Lopez said the SIAD strategy aims to apply area-based interventions, concepts on its natural resources development programs including the Enhanced National Greening Program and integrated island development.
SIAD will cover, but is not limited to, river basins and watersheds, and will be initially implemented within 29 priority sites and expansion areas identified by the DENR last year. SIAD shall also be implemented in other areas of the Philippines, Lopez said.
Meanwhile the biochar program calls for the efficient utilization of abundant agricultural waste materials into marketable products created by rural communities for green energy, soil enhancement, mine revegetation, and a host of environmental products and services, making it a remarkable climate-change mitigation technology with a poverty alleviation through community enterprise.
Biochar is charred biomass strictly from agricultural wastes like rice hull and straw, bagasse, pili shell, mango seed, coconut husk and shell and corn cobs, which are produced by high heating (>500 degrees Celsius) with very limited oxygen.
Lopez said biochar has 52 known uses, including as feed additive in animal farming, carbon fertilizer, insulator, protection against electromagnetic radiation, water decontaminant, biomass additive, ingredient in cataplasm for insect bites and abscesses, fabric additive for functional underwear and filling for mattresses and pillows.
Biochar also draws carbon from the atmosphere, providing a carbon sink on agricultural lands. After its initial or cascading use, biochar can be recycled as soil conditioner.