As if Gina Lopez’s rejection as Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary was not painful enough, President Duterte landed a bigger blow to progressive ideals by appointing a retired military general with a chequered history to replace her.
In a stunning move, Duterte named ex-Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Roy Cimatu as the new guardian of the environment. The AFP has a well-known record of defending illegal loggers and mining companies, two of the most destructive industries to the environment. Their businesses thrive precisely because of that fact.
Hence, it came as no surprise when mining companies expressed jubilation at Cimatu’s appointment. They already had a reason to celebrate when Lopez was rejected, seeing their stocks surge in value immediately. With the newly-appointed Secretary declaring that he will “allow for responsible mining” shortly after being sworn in, the grimy industry will become even more lucrative for investors.
Wisdom suggests that you withhold judgment until the person has proven themselves first. However, a lot can already be drawn from Secretary Cimatu’s track record to make a fair judgment of the tenure he will have.
The environmentalist group Kalikasan recounted that in 1994, Cimatu was the leader of “Task Force Lumad” which saw the Philippine Army’s 603rd Infantry Brigade acted as the private army of Alsons Consolidated Resources, Inc. – protecting their illegal logging business thrive in Mindanao. Then-Army General Cimatu also trained several units of paramilitary forces to engage in combat members of the Ata-Manobo tribe, whose lands were being ravaged by the company’s illegal logging activities.
It should be noted that the owner of Alsons Inc, – brothers Nicasio and Tomas Alcantara – were listed among President Duterte’s top 10 campaign donors in the 2016 elections. Another significant fact to acknowledge is that the current Finance Secretary, Carlos Dominguez, was a former executive director at Alsons and continues to be a shareholder of the company until today.
It can be remembered that Sec. Dominguez was the most vocal critic of Sec. Lopez in the Duterte administration, their clashes during Cabinet meetings were much-publicized. The Finance Chief was also the biggest opponent to Lopez’s campaign against destructive mining operations, which undoubtedly is influenced by his ties to that industry.
In the aftermath of Lopez’s removal as DENR chief President Duterte hinted at the possible handiwork of the mining sector citing, “lobby money talks“. Although that comment was later on refuted by his spokesperson, one cannot help but wonder if whether the President was hinting at something.
Is the influence which oligarchs wield in politics too much for even his popularity to overcome? Duterte’s remark seemed to allude to that fact: “I prefer some people but I don’t control everything.”
If that were true, then it would make sense to appoint ex-military officers to Cabinet given the extensive links between state security forces and the oligarchy. There are several retired generals in Duterte’s Cabinet, with the addition of Cimatu their numbers only grow larger and their influence even stronger.