The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) could tap workers of suspended mining firms for the government's planned expansion of bamboo and mangrove plantations to fight climate change and poverty.

This was disclosed by Environment Secretary Gina Lopez during a recent dialogue with small-scale miners from Paracale town in Camarines Norte held at the DENR central office in Quezon City. The miners were accompanied by acting Camarines Norte Gov. Jonah Pimentel and some members of the provincial board.

The miners had sought an audience with the DENR chief to ask assistance for mine workers who lost their jobs as a result of the environmental audit conducted on all metallic mining operations in the country.

Lopez urged the miners to get involved in more sustainable livelihood that does not only help the environment but also protect their families from the negative impacts of climate change.

She told miners and local government officials that she could not allow small-scale mining for the moment because it uses mercury that threatens the environment and public health.

"Small-scale mining is illegal, and you don’t want to be caught or have the Ombudsman bar you from public service forever. I cannot help you if it is illegal," Lopez said.

"Help us by growing bamboo and mangrove seedlings. We will fund it, but your earnings will be your own,” she added.

During a recent climate change conference in Morocco where she joined the Philippine delegation, Lopez said the country will embark on a massive expansion of mangrove and bamboo plantations to strengthen the ecological and economic resilience of local communities in the face of climate change and its devastating impacts.

In 2010, an executive order was issued requiring the use of bamboo in at least 25 percent of desk and furniture requirements of public schools, as well as the prioritization in furniture and other construction requirements of government facilities.

Considered as one of the fastest growing members of the grass family, bamboo is also known to sequester as much as 400 percent of carbon per unit area, while giving off 35 percent more oxygen than other trees.

While its resilience and flexibility have made it an important construction material for furniture and houses, its different parts are also a source of pulp and paper products, as well as fiber and food.

Mangroves, on the other hand, have been seen as natural barriers against storm surges while acting as habitats for various marine animals.

Both mangroves and bamboo can also stabilize embankments and prevent erosion brought about by sea level rise, which is one of the identified impacts of climate change.

Although Paracale is not one of the 29 areas identified by the DENR as priorities for area development, Lopez assured the miners that the agency will provide them livelihood assistance.

She also called on Gov. Pimentel to help in the preparation of a work and financial plan that the DENR could use as basis for budgetary allocations and monitoring purposes.

"Plant bamboo. Plant mangroves. Identify marine sanctuaries. I want you to be the first to benefit from the resources that you can find in your area before others do. I will help you,” Lopez said. ###