After nearly two months of wrangling, the Commission on Appointments earlier today (May 3) voted 16-8-1 to reject the nomination of Gina Lopez as Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The defeat abruptly ends Lopez’ tenure as Environment Chief after only ten months.
Lopez, a long-time environment activist, philantrophist, and scion of one of the country’s most powerful clans, wasted no time going after erring international and big local mining companies which she has long blamed for ruining the country’s environment.
During the confirmation hearings, Lopez’ critics attacked her on many fronts. They questioned her over her family’s businesses, as well as her hiring practices, temperament, authoritarian tendencies, and her competency for the job.
According to the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, Lopez should not be confirmed as Environment Secretary because she is unqualified – citing her supposed lack of technical and scientific expertise.
Their contention is laughable. Lopez is undeniably knowledgeable on the ins and outs of her job given her decades of experience as a pro-environment activist. Secondly, folks from the Chamber of Mines or their allies in Congress didn’t say anything about the technical and scientific expertise of past DENR Secretaries like Antonio Cerilles, Heherson Alvarez, Mike Defensor, Angelo Reyes, and Lito Atienza. Why the double standard?
Anyhow, Lopez will no longer be Environment Secretary. Happy days are back for the mining industry and their allies. It is now clear that a lot of our legislators do not represent the long-term welfare of the people. They instead serve the interests of big businesses. The mining industry do not want to be regulated by the government. THEY regulate the government.
When was the last time we had an Environment Secretary who truly and passionately cared for the environment? Lopez’ rejection by the Commission on Appointments will set a bad precedent: Fight mining companies, and you will lose your job.
This is more than just a personal loss for Lopez. She’ll be fine. She will probably go back to running ABS-CBN Foundation just like before – fighting for her advocacies, organizing relief drives and fun runs, and producing educational programs.
The real losers here are the current and future generation of Filipinos who will not be able to enjoy their right “to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature,” which is elucidated in Article II, Section 16 of the 1987 Constitution.
Big mining companies may have won this battle, but they should know that their victory will be short-lived. If there’s any silver lining to Lopez’ rejection as Environment Secretary, it’s the fact that even in her abbreviated tenure on the job, she managed to use her platform to educate Filipinos about the evils of irresponsible mining in a way her predecessors never did.
Public opinion is on her side, and the people overwhelmingly believe that her rejection was unjustified. If this renewed pro-environment sentiment will go on until 2019 and beyond, maybe politicians who kowtow to the interests of big mining companies should start worrying about their jobs.
We can take solace in the immortal words of the late United States Senator Ted Kennedy, “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”