Chamber of Mines renews call to Congress to reject Lopez for DENR

May 1, 2017 - 6:13 PM
Reuters file photo of DENR chief Gina Lopez

MANILA – Environment Secretary Gina Lopez had defended some of the reforms she was accused of railroading by saying she wanted to ensure they are in place immediately, as she had no idea what her fate will be when Congress resumes session on May 2.

On the eve of that resumption, as expected, mining industry leaders called for her nomination’s rejection by the bicameral Commission on Appointments – citing, among others, ignorance of the law, disregard for legal processes, and extreme sensitivity to criticism.

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) issued a statement renewing its call for the CA to reject Lopez’s appointment as Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“Secretary-designate Lopez has shown herself totally unqualified to lead the DENR. She does not know the law, struggling to define a watershed, or even what an MPSA is. She frequently disregards legal processes, and hates being checked by media and other government agencies like the MICC,” the COMP said in a statement.

The industry group disputed Lopez’s stand that the Philippines, as an island eco-system, is not fit for mining. “This despite expert findings that the country has significant deposits of gold, copper, and nickel that can help boost the country’s GDP by another 1-2 percent if extracted properly.”

While obsessing with mining, Lopez has neglected the other substantive aspects of her work as DENR chief, according to COMP. “A sober review of the last 10 months will show that, apart from the ordered closures and suspensions of mine projects (none of which have actually been implemented), Lopez has not accomplished much. Illegal mines continue to proliferate in gold rush areas. Lopez has not taken any significant step to combat deforestation, soil erosion, air and water pollution, improper disposal of solid and toxic wastes, loss of coral reefs, mismanagement and abuse of coastal resources, and overfishing.”

The Filipino taxpayers “deserve experienced and qualified leadership from the DENR to effectively harness the country’s natural resources. Lopez simply does not have these qualities. Her bias against mining and her blatant disregard for government procedures and processes make her unfit and unqualified to be DENR Secretary.”

The Chamber said: “We need a DENR Secretary who knows the law, and is able to balance the work of protecting the environment while promoting the rational use of our natural resources. Lopez does not have that balance as she is against all forms of resource extraction. This has become evident in her recent policy actions that stifles all future prospects in the mining industry.”

In February 2017, COMP recalled, Lopez ordered the closure and suspension of 28 operating mines for alleged violations of their ECC conditions and other environmental regulations. “However, Lopez’s closure orders were inconsistent with the findings of her own audit teams that visited the mines in August. Of the 25 mines Lopez ordered closed, the audit teams found only 9 cases serious enough to merit a suspension, and these could resume operations subject to the implementation of corrective measures. 13 others were only recommended to be fined and to implement corrective measures. 3 mines even had no audit recommendations against them.”

Audit doctored?

Furthermore, despite Lopez’s claims that these mines had serious environmental violations, COMP said no cases have actually been filed in the Pollution Adjudication Board (PAB), or even the regular courts, leading many miners to question what laws their operations actually violated.

COMP noted that a witness has come forward claiming, under oath, that as an audit team leader, he was summoned by then DENR Undersecretary Leo Jasareno in August 2016 to change the result of their mine audit of Lepanto Mining’s operations from “compliant” to “with major violations” – with the intention of suspending the mine operations. Similar instructions were allegedly given to other audit team leaders, to cause the suspension or closure of the mining operations they audited, COMP said.

“Lopez has also made many grandiose claims at the expense of the mining industry. She claims that, instead of mining, her eco-tourism development plans will lift mining communities out of poverty and earning millions in just two short years,” COMP pointed out.

The chamber drew on Lopez’s previous remarks to cite an alleged tendency to paint herself “as a super-Secretary, able to do the work of the DSWD, DTI, and DOT in eradicating poverty through eco-tourism projects.”

Grand claims fact-checked

However, added COMP, “a fact-check on her claimed successes actually show only modest results. Ugong Rock Adventures, in particular, had a gross revenue of only P8.7 million in 2016, according to the Puerto Princesa City Tourism Department. This is already in Puerto Princesa, one of the country’s biggest tourist destinations. Can she really duplicate this in more remote areas where only mines can viably operate?”

The COMP concluded that the secretary’s actions and policy pronouncements in the last 10 months reveal a “tendency to be driven by emotion rather than evidence. She has repeatedly claimed social justice and “the common good” as basis for her orders, but is deficient on details; she evades substantive questions and glosses over the facts and the real consequences of her haphazard decisions.”

The chamber also disagreed with Lopez’s allegedly naive stance toward working with the New People’s Army, which has terrorized business in the countryside, depriving people of jobs.

Lopez also lacked respect for the work of the Executive Secretary, as seen by her open disdain for the review done by Salvador Medialdea of her orders. “Lopez forgets that she is now part of the government bureaucracy, and as such, her orders are never final and executory, but are subject to appeal and review by higher powers. Her irritation over her decisions being reviewed by Executive Secretary Medialdea speaks volumes about her ignorance of basic due process.”

Her often prickly encounters with the media were cited as well. COMP recalled her calling Businessworld reporter Janina Lim as “just a fucking employee” after the latter asked her about a new policy requiring suspended mine firms to put up a multimillion trust fund before they can resume ore shipments.