February 6, 2017
RECTO CALLS FOR SAFETY NETS FOR DISPLACED MINE WORKERS
Government should use part of its multi-billion-peso tree-planting budget this year in helping workers displaced by its order to close 23 mines.
Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto said that the P6.93 billion fund of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for its National Greening Program (NGP) this year could aid mine workers who will lose their jobs due to DENR's wholesale revocation of mining permits.
As shutdowns loom, Recto urged Malacañang to form an interagency group that will seek "ways and means" on how to help affected workers.
A portion of the NGP should be earmarked for affected mine workers, Recto said. "It can be part of a larger 'safety net' that will cushion the economic dislocation of tens of thousands of workers in this sector."
"Rich mine owners won't feel the pinch. They have made a stockpile of money. It is the people on the ground who will bear the full brunt of the closure of their workplaces," Recto said.
Launched in 2010, the NGP is an ambitious multiyear project to regreen denuded and despoiled forest lands, including coastal mangrove areas.
It is being implemented through a variety of schemes which include the parceling out of reforestation contracts to NGOs, lumads, forest dwellers, local governments and environment groups.
Contract cost per hectare was P23,778 in 2015 and P26,278 in 2016.
Recto urged DENR to invite mine workers to participate in the project as "reforestation contractors and then retain them later as stewards of the places they have regreened."
"Many of them know about and have had experience in maintaining nursery sites and tree planting. Besides, planting trees is not rocket science," he said.
"With millions of hectares of denuded mountains needing regrowth, there is no lack of areas to plant, nor of people who will do the planting," Recto added.
Recto said NGP's "spendable budget" this year could be more than the P6.93 billion appropriated in the 2017 national budget, "as there could be leftovers, or unutilized allocations, from its last year's budget of P8.16 billion."
Under its original workplan for 2017, the NGP targets the production of 336 million seedlings to be planted in 300,000 hectares, on top of protecting 896,000 hectares planted in the past years.
To carry these out, the NGP will hire 2,180 "environment and natural resources" personnel at a payroll cost of P393 million annually.
"Baka ang ibang slots dito pwede i-offer sa mga displaced mine workers. Maaring konti lang ang pwedeng i-absorb pero any vacancy counts," he said.
An official DENR report boasts that from ?2010 to 2015, the NGP had planted 1.32 billion seedlings, at a cost of P32 billion.
The Commission on Audit in a 2013 report, however, charged that the program had a high sapling mortality rate of 21 percent.
Mine owners have warned that the DENR's closure order will affect 1.2 million workers in the industry but a latest report from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau officially pegs a lower number at 219,000.
"Bottomline is that there should be a program, a master plan, to help the displaced workers. Kung ang mga 'yan ay 50,000 Pinoys galing Saudi na nawalan ng trabaho sa isang bagsakan, nagkumahog na ang gobyerno. Dapat may urgency din sa kasong ito," Recto said.
"Sa mga private school teachers na apektado ng K-to-12, mahigit P4 bilyon ang nilaan ng gobyerno bilang tulong," Recto said.
Recto said that in addition to an emergency jobs program, the assistance could come in the form of college tuition vouchers for children of mine dependents, and slots in government's infrastructure projects.
But Recto clarified that NGP funds should only be spent on non-mined areas because under the rules of their exploitation the responsibility of rehabilitating these areas falls on firms which had mined them.
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