MANILA, June 11 — The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will soon orient stakeholders concerned on the contents of its new landmark "Handbook on Management and Restoration of Forests in Areas Affected by Mining in the Philippines" to help them better bring such eco-systems back as near as possible to their original states in terms of species composition, structure, function and productivity.
Such handbook is the first attempt to consolidate in one publication existing policies as well as knowledge, experiences and practice on managing and restoring affected Philippine forests at all stages of mining operations from exploration to decommissioning, DENR said.
"There'll be orientation training on the matter," said Remy Evangelista, who's chief of the Reforestation Division under DENR's Forest Management Bureau (FMB).
She added that the training will be for mining companies, noting these are duty-bound to rehabilitate and restore areas where respective operations were carried out.
"Members of multi-sectoral monitoring teams in the country will also be briefed on the handbook so they'll know what to look out for," she said.
University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) Chancellor Dr. Rex Victor Cruz believes the handbook's production will help boost the bid for responsible mining.
"With almost US$ 1 trillion mineral reserves underneath the Philippine land surface, many of which are below many forest eco-systems, striking the delicate balance between development and conservation is vital in achieving goals of both realms," he said.
DENR's Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERDB), Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and FMB partnered with UPLB in producing the handbook, realizing availability of and access to information on sound rehabilitation and restoration technologies are essential in promoting responsible mining across the country.
The Australian government as well as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization provided support for the undertaking.
"A sound rehabilitation program using scientifically- based techniques is very essential in order to bring about a responsible mining industry," said ERDB Director Marcial Amaro Jr.
During DENR's silver anniversary celebration last week, he and other officials concerned turned over a copy of the handbook to Environment Secretary Ramon Paje.
"I hope our field implementers will use this handbook to guide them on management and restoration of forests throughout all stages of mining operations," said FMB officer-in-charge Director Neria Andin.
She noted both forestry and mining sectors must work together to help ensure rehabilitation will truly restore mining-affected areas to functional stability.
"Forest resource use as well as extraction of mineral resources in forest lands is allowed under existing laws, rules and regulations but with safeguards," she said.
Latest available DENR data show forest land accounts for about 50 percent of the Philippines' 30 million hectares of land.
Of the country's total forest land covering some 15 million hectares, DENR said about 30 percent "are considered as high potential for minerals."
Evangelista expects DENR to come out soon with a memorandum circular directing its field offices nationwide to adapt the handbook.
"That circular might be out by this month's end," she said.
She said a draft of the circular was already presented to Paje for his approval and signing.
MGB Director Leo Jasareno considers the handbook's production as "timely," warning abandoned and unrehabilitated mine sites pose danger to people and the environment.
"This explains why we continue to work for advancement of responsible mining where mining activities shall be undertaken with due and equal regard for economic and environmental considerations as well as for health, social and cultural concerns," he said.
He reiterated that mine rehabilitation aims establishing a permanently stable landscape "that's aesthetically and environmentally compatible with surrounding lands."
Amaro assured ERDB's participation in related future undertakings so this agency can develop initiatives that'll further help promote sustainable and responsible mining nationwide.
ERDB's output will also form part of the scientific basis for developing sound mining policies, he noted.
"Science-based policies are very necessary in evolving a responsible industry that aspires to bring usability and stability to the environment," he said.
Cruz likewise said UPLB will "continue to share the burden of other research institutions in generating effective and cost-efficient mining rehabilitation technologies for widespread use by mining companies."
Fora and symposia will still be among UPLB's means of sharing knowledge for improving existing Philippine policies and practices on mine rehabilitation, he added. (PNA) scs/CJT/mec