MANILA, Philippines – Supporters of Gina Lopez are urging President Rodrigo Duterte to re-appoint the ousted Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) secretary after the Commission on Appointments (CA) thumbed down her ad-interim appointment last week.
Led by environmental activists from Greenpeace, Lopez’s supporters locked the gates of the DENR central office along Visayas Avenue in Quezon City Monday morning.
Eight Greenpeace activists, wearing orange jumpsuits and with tube locks connecting their arms, occupied the agency’s front gates, impeding access by visitors to the head office. A long banner that read ‘DENR: Not open for Business’ was hoisted outside the compound.
Greenpeace members and other Lopez supporters are expected to proceed to Sampaloc, Manila within the University of Sto. Tomas area along España Boulevard by noon before marching to Mendiola Street in San Miguel District near Malacañang at 1 p.m. and hold a program there at 2 p.m.
“Every Filipino deserves the right to live, to breathe clean air, to drink clean water, and to live in a clean and safe environment,” said Yeb Saño, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia and one of the frontline activists barricading the DENR.
“We need to RESIST: fight head on the corporate influence over government that leads to impunity of polluters and the lack of accountability from our politicians. It is our duty as the people to reclaim government from the clutches of the greedy,” Saño added.
Transparency, accountability on CA members’ votes
Greenpeace said Lopez’s appointment last year “represents the electoral agenda of various organizations including Greenpeace clamoring for the integration of environmental programs in all presidential candidates’ platform.”
The organization claimed that CA’s rejection of Lopez’s appointment “is a manifestation of the continued control of the Philippine government by big business interests, and as a failure of the current administration to stand by the reforms it is pursuing.”
The group said that, with the rejection of Lopez, the reforms she introduced should be protected and continued.
Greenpeace is also calling for transparency and accountability on the votes cast by the members of the CA.
“The CA held the voting in secret, a new rule that was only introduced prior to Lopez’s and former Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay’s confirmation hearings. CA members who have interests in, and connections to, mining corporations also refused calls to inhibit themselves from the hearings. Greenpeace is challenging both Houses of Congress to scrap midnight provisions and launch investigations into the actions and decisions of their members that now effectively protect public officials having conflicts-of-interest from public scrutiny.”
Lopez ordered the closure of 23 mining corporations located in watersheds, suspended five others, and cancelled 75 mining contracts. She was also able to dismantle illegal fish pens in Laguna de Bay that threaten small fisher folk in the area. Her actions had angered big mining corporations, prompting at least 27 oppositions to her confirmation filed with the CA.
‘Lobby money talks’
Duterte had expressed disappointment over the CA’s decision against Lopez.
“Sayang si Gina. I really like her passion,” he said.
The President said he remembered rooting for Lopez during a gathering in Malacanang even though the purpose of the assembly was not about the DENR chief or the pending confirmation hearing on her appointment.
“I remember talking about her in one of ganitong gathering. It was not about the purpose for which they were really gathered in Malacañang, but I made a pinch-hit for her.”
The President insinuated that money could have had something to do with the non-confirmation of Lopez’s appointment.
“Eh you know how it is. This is a democracy and lobby money talks,” said Duterte.
Nevertheless, the President said his hands were tied.
“May mga tao ako na gusto ko, pero [There are people I like but] I share powers. And that is the process of checks and balances,” Duterte said.