By RANDY FELIX P. MALAYAO
Gina Lopez, interim secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DENR). In so short a time, she proved to be not just an ordinary secretary – she is a rebel, non-conformist and a maverick.
She was acerbic yet witty. “Tell your brother he killed a mountain,” she told Congressman Ronnie Zamora, the Chair of the House contingent in the Commission on Appointments. Zamora happens to be the brother of mining magnate, Manny Zamora of Nickel Asia.
For the first time, an environment secretary was heeding the demands of communities and people’s organizations in treating the environment and the people living on it.
During her confirmation hearings, communities, grassroot organizations and advocates from as far as Kasibu would travel to voice their concurrence and support. Anti-mining advocate Kagawad Celia Bahag of Didipio, Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya and SAPAKKMI declared, “Gina’s commitment to social justice is genuine.”
“With her at the DENR, there is hope for us who oppose large scale mining in our province,” she pressed.
Didipio is host to Oceana, one of the 6 FTAAs in the country approved by the DENR.
Lopez was the first Environment Secretary rejected and actively opposed by the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines. Not surprising as she did what no other DENR Secretary has ever done: on February 14, she began cancellation proceedings on 75 Mineral Production Sharing Agreements, ordered the closure of 23 mines, 15 of which are in watersheds, and the suspension of five other companies!
Gina would repeatedly tell Chamber of Mines, “You people benefit, and how many have suffered?”
She also belied the supposed threats to employment and government revenues that the order to close mining operations in watersheds would bring.
“Why extract the country’s minerals, in the process destroy rivers and mountains and threaten the livelihood of those living near the mine site, just for a minuscule share of government revenue”, she told the Commission on Appointments (CA).
“82 percent of the mine’s net income is going to the mining company, 95 percent of revenues is going out of the area. Yet, the people who did not benefit from mining are left to cope with the impact of the denuded, leveled mountains and silted poisoned rivers,” she told her oppositors at CA.
Secretary Lopez also shocked the establishment when she revealed admiration of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) and her plans to work with the them, another first among government secretaries.
“I already asked the President if I can work with the NPA. In fact, I met them two days ago. I like the NPA. They just want a better life,” she said.
For her statements extolling the NPA, she was publicly chided by Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Lorenzana, “Tell your friends to lay down their arms!”
In an 8-15-1 balloting, the nays had it. Foreign large-scale miners and their local conduits have succeeded in opposing to the confirmation of Lopez.
Never had a nation been glued and followed closely CA’s confirmation proceedings. Immediately, thousands of organized communities who rallied in support of Lopez denounced the vote. Netizens are angry. For a moment, the whole country seemed united behind Lopez.
The CPP said the Filipino people and revolutionary forces lost an ally in the mission to defend the environment and the livelihood of the people, especially the masses of peasants and national minority peoples. It declared mining fund and political influence played in Lopez’s rejection.
“Considering what is at stake, big bourgeois comprador interests in the mining industry surely mobilized hundreds of millions of pesos and employed their vast political influence to ensure that the Senate?s Commission on Appointments would reject the appointment of Lopez,” the CPP said in statement posted in its webpage.
In the same statement, the CPP declared the Filipino people can rely on them to defend their welfare and interests.
“The New People?s Army will continue to implement policies of the people’s democratic government and carry out its orders to punish all plunderers and prevent the further destruction of the environment by mining companies and big plantations,: the CPP assured.
Gina Lopez may have lost the vote but she just won her nation’s admiration and respect. Time will come her advocacy shall be fully realized and be given the support it deserves from the people and their genuine new people’s democratic government. # nordis.net