LOPEZ FACES CA ANEW, DENR OFFICIAL STRESSES VOTE FOR ENVIRONMENT'S FUTURE

Environment Undersecretary Art Valdez, who led the country's first contingent that conquered Mount Everest in 2006 and 2007, underscored on Tuesday the importance of the Commission on Appointment's vote on the confirmation of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Gina Lopez, who again faces the CA on March 8.

"Tomorrow's CA vote is important. Not only will our Senators and Congressmen be deciding on the fate of a good person whose heart and mind has been proven so many times to be in the right place, but her cause, her fight is righteous," Valdez said.

Lopez's confirmation has faced stiff opposition from mining operators who questioned the DENR's cancellation of 23 mining concessions due to violations of environmental laws.

Valdez emphasized that the matter of the environment crosses political lines, religious affiliations, age, gender, economic condition, and is an issue that affects every Filipino.

"We're not just talking about current individual issues on mines, watershed protection, illegal logging or the dismantling of illegal fishpens. The more crucial and overarching concern is protecting an environment that can sustain us at present, and which our children and generations of Filipinos yet unborn can still enjoy in the future."

Environment groups have expressed support for Lopez's appointment and have sided with the Secretary in her row with pro-mining interests.

These groups cite mining industry statistics showing that the gross value added in mining averaged about 0.65 percent of GDP for 2012-2016. Metallic and non-metallic exports, for instance, account for only 5% of total exports.

"The forests, mountains, rivers, flora and fauna that we lose now due to failure to enforce our environmental laws in exchange for short-term economic gains cannot be replaced anymore. They are lost forever. I'm sure our lawmakers don't want that. The CA vote is nothing less than a once in a lifetime opportunity for our Senators and Congressmen to affirm their stand on the environment." Valdez clarified. ### 

Multi-agency four billion-peso effort to produce green jobs in closed mines

As many as 30,000 households could benefit from green jobs that will be generated by a multi-agency four billion-peso investment in three provinces that will be affected by mine closures as a result of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) mining audit that shut down mines near watersheds in Surigao Del Norte, Surigao Del Sur, and the Dinagat Islands.

This according to DENR Secretary Gina Lopez, who on Tuesday emphasized that the closure of mines would not result in job losses that could adversely affect the lives of residents dependent on mining for their livelihood.

"It is incumbent upon us in government to provide alternatives for our citizens who are affected by our policies. We want to protect the environment, and want to show that we can save lives and provide livelihood at the same time," said Lopez.

According to Lopez, the DENR together with ten other government line agencies are prepared to invest close to four billion pesos to provide employment opportunities for 25 to 30 thousand households.

The other agencies include the Department of Labor and Employment, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Science and Technology, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Philippine Coconut Authority, the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

"We have a very good, very doable plan that will provide employment in the short and long term, jobs that do not involve mining activities that will damage our much-needed watersheds," explained the DENR chief.

Short-term employment opportunities include reforestation, desilting of agricultural land, napier and bamboo farming, livestock raising, and biochar manufacturing.

Biochar is a powerful soil enhancer that holds carbon and makes soils more fertile. It can boost food security, discourage deforestation and preserve cropland diversity. Biochar systems can reverse soil degradation and create sustainable food and fuel production in areas with severely depleted soils, scarce organic resources, and inadequate water and chemical fertilizer supplies.

Medium and long-term jobs, on the other hand, will be generated by the manufacture of charcoal briquettes, ecotourism activities, infrastructure, and agro-post harvest processing.

Lopez stressed that "providing economic opportunities and protecting the environment are not mutually exclusive."

"It is not one or the other; we can and should do both at the same time, because we cannot sacrifice the welfare of future generations to meet short-term economic objectives."

The environment secretary added that even experts from the Mineral Policy Center based in Washington, D.C. have referred to water as "mining's most common casualty."

"Any competent scientist will tell you that mining affects fresh water through the heavy use of water in processing ore, and through water pollution from discharged mine effluent and seepage from tailings and waste rock impoundments," explained Lopez.

Lopez said she hoped legislators and fellow cabinet secretaries "look at the issue of protecting our watersheds in the long term because we could face a very, very serious problem with water many years down the road."

A study conducted by the think tank World Resources Institute (WRI) said in late 2015 that the country is in danger of experiencing water scarcity in 23 years. The study predicts the Philippines will experience a "high" degree of water shortage in the year 2040.

The Philippines is ranked 57th out of 167 countries that will likely be a water stressed country in 2040. The study defines water stress as “the ratio between total water withdrawals and available renewable surface water at a sub-catchment level.” ### 

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