Unfazed by skepticism over her decision to shut down 23 large-scale mines in the country, Environment Secretary Gina Lopez said she was out to prove that "green economy" can provide more jobs than destructive mining even as she assured alternative livelihood opportunities to affected mine workers and their families.

"Give me a year and a half, maximum of two years. I will prove that a green economy can create more jobs than mining could ever create," Lopez said over the weekend.

Lopez was reacting to claims by the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) that over 1.2 million workers will lose their jobs with the impending closure of mining firms that failed the industry-wide audit conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) due to serious environmental violations.

Contrary to COMP's assertion, Lopez said that available government data would show that mining produced only 234,000 jobs as against the 4.7 million jobs created by tourism in 2014.

Although she admitted that mining has indeed created jobs, the industry remains widely regarded as having adverse effects on the environment and communities.

Lopez insisted that sustainable economic development could be achieved without destroying the environment and causing suffering to people, and that inclusive green economy is way better alternative to mining.

Using the sustainable integrated area development (SIAD) approach, Lopez said the DENR would assume the developmental role of providing sustainable livelihood while teaching environmental conservation to affected communities.

"We will create ecological economic zones where there is respect for nature and value adding in resources, and where people benefit from the resources of the place," Lopez said.

The DENR chief said her decision to close down 23 mining firms was consistent with her non-negotiable stance against irresponsible mining. “My issue is not about mining, my issue is about social justice,” she emphasized.

Lopez also said she was glad that President Rodrigo Duterte fully supports her decision. "I feel comforted by the President's support because his concern is the welfare of the people," Lopez said.

She disclosed that "massive planning and consultations" will be conducted from February 16 to 18 in areas affected by the closure orders she issued. The alternative jobs for displaced mine workers is one of the topics to be discussed, she added.

Lopez had earlier made an assurance that affected mine workers will not end up unemployed as they will be used in the rehabilitation of mine sites, which is one of the conditions imposed on erring mining firms.

The environment chief said that she intends to use the mine rehabilitation fund of the closed mining firms in rehabilitating mining sites. “I would like to work with miners through this fund and use the funds to heal the land,” she said.

She said the DENR is tapping the services of a team of experts of the Sixto K Roxas (SKR) Foundation in the rehabilitation of the mining sites. She is also looking at the potential of biochar as a tool for mine rehabilitation.

Biochar is a type of charcoal that is produced by burning only a small amount of oxygen. This enables the carbon to be absorbed by the plants and preventing it from accumulating in the atmosphere.

Affected mine workers will also be tapped for reforestation activities under the Enhanced National Greening Program, as well as the government's planned expansion of bamboo and mangrove plantations to fight climate change and poverty.

Under the SIAD approach, "mini economic zones" will be created in order to generate employment, livelihood and income-generating activities in communities where mining companies operate. ###