One of the staunchest social activists in the Duterte Cabinet has been omitted from the list of appointees submitted to the Commission on Appointments (CA).
Gina Lopez, current secretary for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), has not been confirmed for reappointment when Congress went into session this month. Her name was the only one among current Cabinet members to be excluded from the said list.
Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III, who is CA majority leader, told The Philippine STAR that Lopez’s absence in the list of Cabinet members reappointed by the President “means that she was not reappointed.”
“The President can still issue her a new appointment, but that will be a regular and not an ad interim appointment, since Congress is already in session. That means that she cannot assume office until the CA confirms her,” he said.
The move should worry progressives, Sec. Lopez is regarded as a fierce defender of the environment and a scourge for mining companies.
On her first day as DENR boss, she ordered a nationwide audit on all mining firms which resulted in the suspension of operations of several.
Even before her appointment, Lopez was active in promoting green causes. As a member of the wealthy and influential clan that owns the country’s top media conglomerate she funded various projects that safeguarded the environment.
Most significant perhaps was the Pasig River Clean-Up Project. The Pasig River, was called at one point, ‘dead river’ because of the level of pollution in it – even shutting down a river ferry service because of the health risks.
The river was successfully rehabilitated because of the initiative and the Pasig River ferry service was allowed to operate once again.
In the broader spectrum of social justice, it was Lopez’s brainchild to launch an emergency hotline service for victims of child abuse and domestic – known as Bantay Bata 163.
The service was recognised by the United Nations and Gina Lopez was awarded as a United Nations Grand Awardee for Excellence in 1997.
However, much of Ms. Lopez’ battles have been around the environment – particularly with the mining industry. She supported President Rodrigo Duterte’s sentiment that “the Philippines can live without mining.”
Lopez actions as environment secretary also backed up her beliefs, immediately ordering an audit on all mining operations in the country. Those who were found to have violated environmental and sustainability laws were suspended until reforms were made.
The bold stance against a powerful industry made her an enemy to many prominent individuals. One of whom is lawmaker, Congressman Prospero Pichay, who has been involved in many corruption scandals in the past and owns stakes in mining.
During a budget appropriations hearing in Congress, Pichay called Sec. Lopez “crazy” for closing down so many mines in the country. One of such establishment is Claver Mineral Development Corporation, which lists Pichay as president of the board of directors.
Despite the opposition, Lopez does not relent in her crusade. She declared after the closure of 20 mines in September that “more mines will be suspended.”
These are the exact reasons why Sec. Lopez’s omission from the recent re-appointees is a cause for concern. One of the bright spots of President Duterte’s administration is the presence of lifelong activists in key Cabinet positions.
This includes a champion of the environment and for social responsibility in Gina Lopez.
Not only does Lopez have a track-record in social advocacy, she has stayed true to her promises and has made significant reforms in the environmental department – an area widely exploited by multi-national corporations in the past.
Her place on the Cabinet is essential to forwarding green causes and would be consistent with the “real change” that President Duterte campaigned to bring.