Environmentalists urge CA to confirm Sec. Lopez’s appointment

Dabawenyo artist Joey Ayala (center) joins environmentalists in Davao City in calling on the Commission on Appointments for the confirmation of Environment Secretary Gina Lopez. Photo courtesy of Ateneo de Davao University-ICOMMP Office

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 22 Feb) – Different environmental advocates in Mindanao called on the Commission on Appointment (CA) for the confirmation of Environment Secretary Regina Lopez, described as a long-awaited “gift” who deserves to be put in the position.

“There is no other person who better fits the position other than Lopez,” lawyer Romeo T. Cabarde, chair of the Ateneo de Davao University’s University Community Engagement and Advocacy Council, told “Wednesday’s at Habi at Kape.”

He appealed to President Rodrigo R. Duterte to continue his support for the environment chief amid the growing resistance from the so-called responsible mining advocates, following Lopez’s decision to close down 23 mining companies and cancel 75 existing mineral production agreements (MPSAs) that are within the watershed areas.

Cabarde urged Duterte to uphold the decision of Lopez and downplayed the contribution of the mining industry to the economic growth and development of the country.

“It’s difficult to find a new job but I think it is difficult to find a new Earth,” he said.

“We have had enough of the lies from the mining firms they should not discredit the secretary of environment.”

Cabarde said that Lopez is the first head of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) who lives up to the agency’s functions and the only one who has laid out a clear policy for environmental protection.

He said that it will be a big disappointment if Lopez’s appointment will not be confirmed by the Commission on Appointment (CA) because it will contradict the Duterte administration’s campaign promise of “Change has Come.”

“We have seen it through the DENR that ‘change has come.’ If she won’t be confirmed, where is change?” Cabarde said.

Dr. Jean Lindo, an environmental activist from Panalipdan-Mindanao, said they are willing to take to the streets if the CA rejects Lopez’s appointment.

She claimed the mining industry is “unsustainable” because the Philippines benefits so little from the gains of the mining corporations.

“This is the kind of business that has an unsustainable production, distribution, and consumption. Lopez has a deep understanding about the mining issue. We support Secretary Gina Lopez. We are calling on the public to exert pressure to support Lopez,” Lindo said.

She said that the government is capable of finding alternative jobs for the industry workers who stand to lose their jobs.

“Let’s give her a chance to prove herself. There are not better options than mining that are friendlier to people,” she said.

Leo Fuentes Jr., regional coordinator of Magsasaka at Siyentipiko Para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG), highlighted the agriculture’s role in providing potential jobs for workers who may be displaced.

“Before mining companies came to mine the communities, people used to be in farming. Agriculture can provide alternative jobs,” he said.

Gabriela Women’s Party nominee Bai Ali Indayla said mining operations even caused poor communities to become poorer.

“The mining industry in our country did not benefit the Filipino people but only the large and foreign firms who abuse our environment and its minerals. Poverty is a result of destruction of natural resources,” she said.

Homegrown artist Joey Ayala also countered the stand of the mining players that they operate within the bounds of Republic Act 7942, otherwise known as the “Philippines Mining Act of 1995,” by saying that it does not mean that even if they follow the law, the law itself is “right.”

“The process of making laws are subject to a lot of hearing lobbying, and vested interest. Respect it but do not praise it. You should learn to question the law because not all legal things are right…. We have to look at our laws. A lot of our laws were passed because people have vested interest. We are praising laws so much. Once written, it is sacred. It’s difficult to move forward because of authority itself,” he said.

In a statement issued on Monday, Mindanao Business Council (MBC) chair Vicente Lao hit Lopez for her alleged “gross bias” on the closures of 23 mining operations and cancellation of 75 existing mineral production sharing agreements (MPAs).

He said the private sector is wary over the possible effects of the closure to the host communities and to the workers who may lose jobs and livelihood.

“We strongly believe that the welfare and livelihood of millions of poor Filipino families in the affected mining communities should take precedent over the advocacy of a single cabinet secretary who has manifested gross bias against the operation of a lawful industry that has contributed greatly to the upliftment of the lives and future of poor Filipinos in the countryside,” Lao said.

He said that they are calling for equal procedural transparency, fairness and observance of the rule of law in the audit of mining operations.

Lao added that the council acknowledges the importance and huge potential of the mining industry in its contribution to the development of the country, describing mining as a “critical ingredient” that will facilitate “greater economic growth, attracting investments, creating jobs and reducing poverty in the region, particularly in the rural areas.”

He assured the government that the council will continue its advocacy to promote responsible development of the mineral resources in Mindanao and optimize the industry’s contributions to the country’s development.

“The MBC will continue to clamor for transparency and stronger accountability among the key players in the mining industry as we continue to monitor their social, environmental, and economic performance,” he said. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)