Government News Analysis

An unconfirmed result

Reading between the lines, it looks like the skids could already be under eco-warrior, Regina Lopez (photo), the Philippines’ Environment and Natural Resources chief who kicked a hornets’ nest last month when she ordered a mass mines shutdown. Her unilateral decision to fold 56% of the country’s mines sent world nickel prices soaring, mining shares on the Philippine Stock Exchange plunging, and opened a crack in the Cabinet as ministers raced to limit the damage.

The pit closures followed a nationwide audit of mines which were started last summer by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau – an agency of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) – on Lopez’s direct instruction. The strident green crusader had pledged to virtually decimate the country’s mining sector and she used the audit as the means.

Far from pursuing a national policy that took into account the wider interests of the industry and the economy, the closures – 23 of the country’s 41 mines, mostly nickel – plus the issuing of suspension notices for five more, was nothing short of Lopez pursuing a personal vendetta which sought to end mining in the Philippines. As she said at the time: “I visited the mines and I made my own judgment based on my own observations”.

And that statement, and others like it, could now seal her fate.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been put in an invidious position by Lopez; for while he too is concerned by environmental damage caused by mining, he cannot preside over a government where ministers pursue their own private agendas – which is clearly the case here. He also needs to maintain Cabinet cohesion if his ambitious plans for the economy are going to stand any chance of success. In that endeavour, there’s no place for divisive policies.

And so, when Lopez’s confirmation hearing finally comes up in the Senate – presently she’s DENR Secretary-Designate – we believe there’s a very good chance that her appointment will not be endorsed. That hearing had been rescheduled for last Wednesday, but was later postponed following a ‘Night of the Long Knives’ in which three senators lost their committee chairs and the Upper House’s President Pro-Tempore was replaced. A paler shade of yellow

Aside from mounting calls from the powerful mining lobby that she should not be confirmed, we base our conclusion on three revealing remarks – one made by Lopez; one by Finance Minister, Carlos Dominguez, who led efforts to calm speculation following Lopez’s bombshell declaration that more or less stated she was effectively closing down the Philippine mining industry; and one by Duterte himself.

Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, of the confirmation hearings Lopez said this. ”I strongly feel that we should not have any individuals there with strong business leanings which will influence and affect the decisions. I’m not accusing anyone. I’m just saying as a matter of policy. That’s the way it should be”.

Well, first of all, that’s a very rich statement coming from someone whose strong environmentalist ‘leanings’ have most certainly ‘influenced’ and ‘affected’ her decision to wipe out more than half of the Philippine mining sector – a move that threatens the lives of more than a million people; putting an estimated 195,000 direct and indirect mine workers out of work. Or in her view, is imposing such a ruthless order the privilege of a Secretary-Designate?

Furthermore, if senators with “strong business interests” were to be excluded, Lopez would be sitting in the chamber for the hearings more or less on her own. Surely, she must be aware that members have business interests. We know she’s new to government but she must have heard of SALN, the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net-worth – an annual register in which all members of Congress are required to declare a statement of their business and financial affairs. She should take a look at that. Excluding senators on those grounds would scotch the hearings entirely. There wouldn’t be anyone left to hear them.

But anyway, let’s assume what she actually meant to say was that senators with mining interests should not determine her confirmation. But that begs the question: what about senators with environmental interests or any who at any time have voted against pro-mining legislation? Should they be allowed to attend? To determine who was fit for the post?

Finance Secretary Dominguez who managed to set aside Lopez’s decision while a review of her findings is being carried out, confirmed that the reassessment of those findings would go ahead “even if the appointment of the environment minister who ordered the closure of over half the country’s mines is nor confirmed by Congress”. In short, her rejection by the Senate has already been factored in at Cabinet level.

Describing the reassessment as “an objective, science-based fact-finding review,” he left no one in any doubt as to how Lopez arrived at her conclusions – not that we needed that confirmed; Lopez’s anti-mines mission has been clear from day one.

Immediately following Lopez’s announcement of her unilateral decision to neuter the country’s mining industry, the Department of Finance issued the following statement. “Malacañang has swiftly moved to calm fears of massive layoffs in communities affected by Lopez’s sudden move to close down or suspend mining operations in 10 provinces across the country, after several Cabinet officials expressed concern over the detrimental impact of her decision, which she had apparently kept to herself and even excluded members of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) team that conducted the audit, as well as the panel that reviewed the audit findings”.

The earlier Malacañang statement referred to said this. “Members of the Cabinet have expressed their full support behind President Duterte’s decision to observe due process before implementing a directive of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources to shut down or suspend 28 mining sites across the country”. It added that the DENR move “has triggered outrage in communities hosting mining sites, as some 195,000 direct and indirect workers and their families, or a total of some 1.2 million people, would be adversely affected by the closure and suspensions of the mine sites”. Fallout from the mines

But it’s what Duterte told reporters on Monday that further leads us to believe that Lopez will not be getting the “full presidential backing” she previously boasted about for her measures. He stated clearly that he would not be interfering in the confirmation proceedings adding. “This is a democracy. There are processes to be observed”.

And, of course, he’s absolutely right. The president appoints, Congress confirms. If it didn’t, nepotism, for example, would be rampant in the executive. The Philippines would have a Cabinet like Angola’s or Gabon’s.

Equally as important though, is that the president cannot be seen to be backing one minister against another. Thus, he has no option but to step back and let the process take its course. Furthermore, national-policy decisions are taken by the Cabinet – again, in case no one’s told her, that’s how the Cabinet works. Policy is arrived at by consensus not by edict declared by a single member – in this case, a loose canon who solely wishes to pursue a personal agenda.

Certainly, there’ll be some who’ll charge Duterte with changing his stance on mining; that he’s not pro-environment. That will carry little weight though following his signing last week of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which offers a 70% reduction in Philippine carbon emissions by 2030. This has now been passed to the Senate for approval – The power and the furore

And so, given all that – the tremendous toll the ’Lopez Declaration’ would take on the mining industry and all those whose livelihood it provides; the influence of the mining lobby, whose repeated requests for an explanation of how she arrived at her conclusions were summarily denied; clear evidence that the Mines and Geosciences Bureau were not on board with her decision, even questioning it; and Duterte’s clear message that he must step aside and allow the democratic process to run its course, leaving Congress to decide, we believe that it will be difficult for the hearings to ratify her position.

The eco-princess, meanwhile, will remain adamant. This is a woman who’s used to getting her own way. If she doesn’t on an issue that is as personal as this, she’ll be left with just one option. To resign. Of course there will be cries for her not to – particularly from the green ranks of the eco-activists. But she’s become increasingly isolated within the executive branch and even in what for the moment might be referred to as “her department”.

60 Comments

  • Blame irresponsible miners! If u can only see the scope of destruction caused by illegan and irresponsible miners in Pangasinan,Zambales,etc then u have to give Lopez right!

  • The stock exchange is not the Philippine economy. How about writing about the other side of mining, Volatilian? That the techniques developed by the mining industry are continental and are ill-suited and detrimental to the insular nature of the Philippines.

  • Strike a balance is what the president and his cabinet members are taking into consideration. There is the mining rules and regulations that is the bible of the gov’t and the extractive industry investors. If indeed there is gross violation then let the chips fall down. But the gov’t cannot arbitrarily act drastically lest it face legal suits that may cost financial setbacks and lose goodwill to local and foreign investors. So prudence is the better part of valor. This is reality.

    • Lopez is not up too saving environment, in fact, she and her family owned firms under mining classification. Don’t be fooled by the eco-princess advocacy.. She has vested interest both from her funding agencies abroad and monopolizing mining business and using her network station to spread false accusations. She doesn’t even know the definition of watershed.

  • Apektado ang pangangailangan sa world market bakit wala nabang ibang pagkukunan? Kung wala na ibig sabihin tayo ang number one na producer ng nickel. At para manumbalik ang presyo sa stockmarket ng Pilipinas ang lugar ng sugalan ng mga negosyante ibubuyangyang ulit natin sa mga abusado at dayuhang nagmeme ari ng malalaking minahan hanggang sa tuluyang magkaroon ng total devastation ng kabundukan.

    Balikan niyo ang nangyari sa Mesopotamia, Greece at Asia Minor para maintindihan niyo ang tinatawag na catastrophe dulot ng sobra at abusadong pagmimina kung hindi pa kayo kuntento sa idinulot na lagim ng Ondoy, Leyte flashfloods, Guinsaugon flashfloods, supertyphoon Yolanda at yong iba ibang bagyo na nanalanta sa mga lugar ng buong LUZON VISAYAS AT MINDANAO. Ang karaniwang apektado ay ang mahihirap na nakatira sa lugar ng minahan sa kabila ng nagpapasarap sa pahinga ang may ari ng minahan sa kanyang Mansion malayo sa sakuna.

    • Can’t help but to respond to your claim that “responsible mining” was the cause of all those calamity. Not to confuse people, please show some proofs and not just a sweeping statement like this.

    • Masakit sa mata at tainga ang katotohanan, lalo na kung ung nakabasa nito o kayay nakarinig ay taliwas sa kanyang paniniwala. Nagbubulag- bulagan at nagbibingi-bingihan kahit harap-harapan ng nilalapastanganan ang inang bayan. Kailan ba kasi tau magigising? pag huli na ba ang lahat.?

    • Sa sistemang kapitalismo walang responsible mining. Ang lahat ng yan ay nag exist because of profit. And the very reason for being of capitalism is exploitation. Sad to say pero yan ang reyalidad at kasabwat ang mga politiko sa pag exploit ng Inang Kalikasan mula sa pinaka mataas na posisyon hanggang sa lokal na pamahalaan.

      Ayaw masira o pinipreserve ng mga dambuhalang kompanya ng minahan ng kanilang bansa kaya sa mga third world sila nagmi mina.

  • Clearly this article is meant to demonize Lopez. She is only doing her job as environment Secretary. If those companies are grossly irresponsible in their practices why continue letting them mine our resources?

  • The Secretary of DENR MUST SET THE RULES FOR ALL TO FOLLOW…. Isn’t it her job to PREVENT destruction of the environment….. GINA MUST HAVE BEEN OUR DENR SINCE THE SIXTIES…. WE COULD HAVE KEPT OUR FORESTS INTACT THAT FEEDS THE FISHLIFE ON SURROUNDING SEAS ….SHE SETS THE STANDARDS NOT THE MINERS.

    • WELL SAID SIR ,ADAN EVA ! THIS IS PURELY GREED ON MIND OF THE MINERS ! AND THE CORRUPT BUREAUCRACY OF THE LAND ! THE FEW AFFECTED OF THE MINING MAKES IT A LOOPHOLE FOR THE MINERS TO KEEP THEM GOING FATTENING THIER THIER WALLET! THE WHOLE SUFFERS.WHAT A DAMNED LOGIC !

  • Each cabinet members have their own issues to tacle and agendas to pursue including gina lopez. Gina has the environment to protect and preserve as well as that of mr. Domingues’concern w the country’s economy.
    Why stick your nose over the other cabinet members’ specific job..???
    Now members of congress who are one way or another connected w illegal mining, directly or indirectly should give Lopez the confirmation….that is kung aaminin nilang mali ang kanilang ginawa sa pagmimina….or patunayan nilang talagang makakapal ang kanilang mga mukha…!!!
    OMG…elected officials should never engage in mining activities btw…leave this alone to legitimate investors..!!!

  • Great creative writing, I’ll say that for Pinoy’s they can be artistic, even if its a pipe dream. Hell were only in the first year of a 6 year term.

    Sure good to see a lady put the country (one that we borrow from our children) ahead of a few greed foreign investors.

  • Someone hir hopes that sec. Gina lopez wud rethink her hardline view on mining operations.. .. Does that mean we wud also rethink if we go on living? ..✌

  • … i seriously like what she’s doing but if she’s doing and acting on her own without consultation, not even from the agency she belongs with, then something is really wrong… can she fight it all by herself? No! … its a hard fact that she has only herself to blame at… did she confer with our President regarding the closure of all mining corporations’ activities?… did she take into consideration what problems it would cause our economy? … does she really care ?

  • Sec. Lopez has shown that she has the political will to execute where other predecessors have miserably failed before. We should all praise and commend her for the courage she has mustered to do what is needed to be done instead of finding fault and nitpicking on this lady who is merely doing the task thrown before her!

  • I sm with you MAM GINA LOPEZ, kung gusto ng investors na mag nima either local or banyaga dapat sundin nila ang naka saad sa batas pangkalikasan at hindi sila balasubas at hinde naman shot gun dedisyn iyong mga sumusunod ni naman pinasara

  • And you claim you don’t have the slant?????I thought you guys hate oligarchs, the mining industry is monopolized by oligarchs or you purposely omitted this.Which brings us to the one nagging question.What’s in it for Vols….tili…an.still after the job huh?????

  • God will not let your lies and deception win over the truths. Your evil trick will be revealed soon. All you are doing is wrong and devilous. God will reign. Mining will continue. Good men will block you and continue fighting for the right.

  • kung inayos nyo ang pagmimina nyo at Hindi kayo gahaman sa salapi Hindi nyo sasapitin yan alangan namang mag bulag bulagan na lamang para sa lang sa pera tandaan nyo kailngn tayo at makaDiyos makatao makakalikasan at makabansa uunahin muna ang kalikasan bago ang bansa