Published May 1, 2017, 10:01 PM By Madelaine B. Miraflor
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) used to be a very low key government agency — relatively away from the public eye, away from scrutiny, and probably deals with way lesser controversies.
But this had turned 180 degrees in a span of less than a year, a development that can be described even with only three words: Regina Paz Lopez.
From the controversial mining audit that came up with a highly contested result ordering the suspension and closure of 28 mines to an administrative order banning open-pit mines in the country, is the DENR better off without Lopez?
To some, the obvious answer is yes.
For one, Economist Ramon Clarete doesn’t think that it is still wise for the government to still have Lopez at the DENR amid the controversies being thrown at her.
“She’s not serving the country well,” Clarete, who is a faculty member and former Dean of the UP School of Economics (UPSE), told Business Bulletin.
United Filipino Consumers and Commuters (UFCC) thinks so too, being the newest group to air disapproval of Lopez’s decisions and orders.
RJ Javellana, president of the UFCC, said in a statement all the woes of Lopez are self-created and that the series of incidents involving her had “exposed her true character, or lack of it, and raised serious questions whether she is psychologically fit to serve at the helm of the DENR.”
He pointed out that Lopez made several decisions that run counter to the oath she has sworn to uphold and protect when she took on her position at the department.
“From the controversial directives demanding an additional fund for rehabilitating mined-out areas and even communities not directly covered by mining tenements to the questionable shutdowns of several nickel mines, (her woes are all self-created)” Javellana sums up.
Vince Cinches of Greenpeace Southeast Asia has a totally different view. To him, Lopez is fit to work as the country’s environment minister.
“We call the CA to reappoint her,” Cinches said in a separate phone interview with Business Bulletin.
“Her non-confirmation will reveal that majority of our lawmakers, including those that comprise the CA, does not agree with the environmental reforms that’s being pursued by the current administration. Moreover, it will also be a huge indicator that until now, the big environmentally destructive industries still play a huge factor in the decision-making of the government.”
According to Cinches, the DENR, over the past years, has been failing to stick to its original mandate, which is to protect the country’s natural resources, because it has been focusing on its other duties such as bring revenues to the agency. This applies largely to granting permits to big-ticket projects in the mining and construction sector.
To him, Lopez has the capacity to compel DENR to perform its mandate again which, according to Executive Order (EO) No. 192 signed in 1987, makes the agency responsible for the conservation, management, development, and proper use of the country’s environment and natural resources, specifically forest and grazing lands, mineral resources.
The EO specified that DENR’s mandate also covers the “reservation and watershed areas, and lands of the public domain, as well as the licensing and regulation of all natural resources as may be provided for by law in order to ensure equitable sharing of the benefits derived therefrom for the welfare of the present and future generations of Filipinos.”
Lopez’s intention to perform such mandate has been questioned many times.
Tomorrow (Tuesday), Lopez will face the Commission on Appointments (CA) again for her much contested confirmation.
To recall, the CA has already bypassed her appointment twice before closing its last session in March.
Last Thursday, she made last ditch effort to convince the CA that she deserves to oversee the country’s environment sector, forging several orders including the one that bans all prospective open-pit mining operations.
Lopez particularly signed two DENR Administrative Orders (DAO)— the ban on open pit method of mining for copper, gold, silver, and complex ores in the country as well as the updated rules and regulations governing special uses within Protected Areas.
Among other reforms, she also signed a memorandum circular clarifying the definition and function of a watershed, which is also part of her months-long crusade versus destructive mining operations in the country.
“May 2 is the hearing. I’m not confident at all (about getting the confirmation). I don’t know. I find politics very unpredictable. The first hearing was like a baptism of fire. It’s like you never know. In politics, what you see is not what you get,” Lopez said before during a round table discussion with Manila Bulletin.
Lopez is now up against at least 20 oppositors at the CA, while there are at least 10 groups that have expressed their support for her.
“I felt that the situation (at CA) is very unfair because the only ones that were given the voice, a lot of them were the oppositors. How about the ones who stand to benefit from the mine closures? The whole process, I felt, was very one sided,” she added.
Nevertheless, Lopez assured she won’t let go of the job so easily.
“I’m really a fighter,” she said.
“Since I’m still the DENR Secretary, I’d want to use the time I have to explain my side. I don’t know how long I’m going to be with DENR, so if I can ask the people to see the value and the wisdom in caring for our environment, then (I’ll do it) so you can keep the light shining,” she added.
A curse to mining companies
Some call her a crusader but to mining companies, she’s just a plain curse.
Over the last six years, the mining sector only contributed a mere 0.7 percent to Philippine gross domestic product (GDP) despite the country’s rich mineral resources.
Before Lopez happened, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) thought the situation in the sector could be finally reversed with the takeover of the new administration. It then projected that the country is poised to make at least $30 billion from mining investments over the next 10 years.
COMP, which is comprised of the country’s biggest miners, is now one of the most outspoken groups against the DENR chief’s actions, especially when she decided to issue closure and suspension orders on 28 mines as the result of her nationwide audit on the mining sector.
According to them, the actions and pronouncements of Lopez as DENR Secretary “show an undeniable bias against and antagonism towards large-scale mining, rendering her unfit and incapable of a responsible, fair, just, and balanced implementation of the Constitution, the Philippine Mining Act and related laws and regulations, and of upholding personal interest and advocacies over public interest.”