AN EXPANDED budget for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has been proposed in the Senate commensurate with its increased responsibilities as the mining industry grows.
“You need to give opportunities to mine and if you need the budget to function well, then we need to ask for an additional budget. Let’s develop the mining industry now that they have allowed open-pit mining,” Senator Cynthia A. Villar said at a hearing of the Senate subcommittee on finance on Tuesday tackling the DENR’s 2023 budget.
“If we don’t give you the right funding, we won’t be able to fully open this industry,” Senator Maria Lourdes Nancy S. Binay added.
The proposed 2023 budget of the department is P23.04 billion, against the 2022 budget of P25.4 billion.
The department submitted an initial budget proposal of around P40 billion, according to Environment Secretary Ma. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga.
The proposed budget sets aside P1.39 billion for the Mines and Geosciences Bureau.
“Compared to the scale of resources it’s supposed to be overseeing and possibly enhancing, the budget is quite small. The budget was decreased by 8% in order to conform with what the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) provided us. We are living within what the DBM allotted for us,” Ms. Yulo-Loyzaga said.
“We are trying to identify high-risk and high-opportunity (mining) areas for the development of the country,” she added.
She said the laws governing mining need to be reviewed, without elaborating.
“It is time to revisit our mining laws to make sure our environment remains protected while the government establishes the appropriate policies to maximize revenue from the sector,” Senator Robinhood Ferdinand C. Padilla said.
He added that the current rules prescribe weak penalties for polluters and other violators.
Ms. Loyzaga said the DENR’s regulatory capacity is being built up for the mining industry, specifically the process of assessing mining applications and the monitoring of operations.
“We need to develop our own processing and value-adding. The private sector must be engaged constructively in this process…the mining industry (is a driver of) economic recovery,” she added.
Environment Undersecretary Jonas R. Leones said that the department is starting with improving its efforts to monitor small-scale miners.
“In terms of large-scale mining, we have been very serious in our campaign to force them to comply with environmental laws. For small-scale mining, it’s the problem because the permit comes from local government units. The direction there is we declare a program to allow us to regulate small-scale miners,” he said.
Senator Lorna Regina B. Legarda said a balance must be achieved between mining earnings and the conservation and restoration of degraded areas.
“We need to restore (mined areas) so local communities don’t suffer from the degradation and extraction of land. We cannot totally ban mining. It’s impossible and improbable. We also can’t just exploit without any safeguards… (we need) nature and science-based solutions,” she added.
Ms. Yulo-Loyzaga said that the department is also looking at expanding the forms of rehabilitation that mining companies must undertake.
“We are exploring this. Where we cannot avoid the disturbance of the ecosystem, we are required to reduce and mitigate. There is a move internationally being explored by several global mining companies (involving) a combination of rehabilitation and compensatory action where they must also invest in the enhancement of high biodiversity areas nearby,” she said.
“As they are extracting, they are also required to rehabilitate where they have operated to ensure there is some form of restoration. Realistically speaking, there will never be a full restoration. Rehabilitation only goes so far. It will never return to its original state,” she added. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson