Despite rejection as environmental secretary, Gina Lopez continues campaign vs open-pit mines

File photo
File photo

Gina Lopez may have failed to secure confirmation as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) back in May, but she’s still fighting in support of the ban she levied on open-pit mining during her 11 months on the job as an appointee.

With the ban’s fate to be decided this week by the inter-agency Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC), she went on local radio station DZMM this morning to urge her former boss, President Rodrigo Duterte, and her successor, Roy Cimatu, to leave the ban in place.

“Don’t lift the ban; it’s the duty of the government to take care of the people. If you lift the ban, I’ll tell you, our people will suffer. It’s only the rich making the money,” Lopez told the radio news outlet.

Lopez only recently returned from the United States, where she received an award from Seacology, a non-profit environmental conservation based in Berkeley, California.

She was awarded the 2017 Seacology Prize last Oct. 5 for her “untiring environmental advocacy in the face of powerful opposition.”

She received a US$10,000 prize (PHP500,00) for the award.

“Gina Lopez has shown the vision and courage the Seacology Prize is meant to honor,” said Seacology’s executive director, Duane Silverstein. “She has fought for the Philippines environment and to give island communities there a voice in the decisions that affect their natural resources and their lives.”

Lopez today said she was hopeful President Duterte would side with the people, no matter what the MICC decides.

“He’s the one with power. I’m still hopeful. I think he feels it, the suffering of people, and he’s tough. He doesn’t care about anything,” she said of Duterte.

While mining is allowed for under the Constitution, Lopez said it does not specifically make provisions for open-pit mining.

“What is specified under the Constitution is the right of our people to a healthy ecology,” she said in Filipino.

“The open-pit mines are near the rivers, streams. All of them will be there forever. Who will take care of that? Until now, not a single one [open-pit mine] has been rehabilitated,” Lopez said in a mix of Filipino and English.

Lopez’s most controversial decision as secretary involved the cancellation of 75 mining contracts or mineral production sharing agreements.

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines called Lopez’s decision “unilateral” and said it was “no longer a question of whether a handful of companies really violated environmental laws” but “whether we still uphold the sanctity of contracts.”

While Lopez maintains that her rejection as environment secretary was due to standing firm against the mining lobby, several members of the Commission on Appointments (CA) questioned her competence and knowledge of environmental law.

“I admire her passion, but the law is the law. It may be harsh, it may be flawed, but that is the law. I am very much willing to hear from her what needs to be done, and I will file a bill in the House of Representatives to make that happen,” CA and House of Representatives member Josephine Sato was quoted as saying in the Inquirer.

“But it has to be done within the purview of the law. Any gaps in the law must be dealt with by amending the law or enactment of another law… The law is there for a reason and if she thinks the law should be amended, then by all means – but let Congress do it first,” she added, insinuating Lopez was not working within the bounds of the law.

Prior to assuming the role of environment secretary last year, Lopez, who comes from the same Lopez family that owns ABS-CBN Corp., led campaigns to clean up the Pasig River, to stop construction of a subdivision in the La Mesa watershed in Quezon City, and to stop mining in Palawan.

Seacology lauded Lopez for continuing her environmental advocacy even after her rejection as secretary.

You can watch the full presentation of her award here.

with reports from ABS-CBN News

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