Incoming environment secretary Gina Lopez has drawn the battle lines as she prepares to head what president-elect Rodrigo Duterte described as one of the most sensitive agencies under his administration.
Speaking to reporters minutes after formally informing the incoming president of her decision on Tuesday, Lopez did not mince words as she ran down her policy proposals once she assumes as chief of the environment agency.
“Coal is not cheap. The community there suffers, their health suffers, their income suffers,” she said when asked about the country’s continuing dependence on energy derived from coal. “Just stop it already.”
Lopez expressed disappointment over the issuance of permits for over 100 coal plants to be established in different parts of the country, vowing to initiate a review of the approval given by the current administration.
She also expressed support for the comprehensive review of the country’s national energy policy that is being conducted by the Climate Change Commission.
“(The Philippines is) the most vulnerable country to climate change in the whole planet,” she stressed, noting the availability of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal.
A known anti-mining advocate, Lopez also echoed Duterte’s sentiments as she criticized irresponsible mining, which she said has caused suffering to people in the community.
“Mining causes suffering and building an economy based on suffering is not acceptable,” she said, adding that utilizing the resources efficiently could help address poverty.
She said she would meet with pro-mining groups to discuss the issues, particularly the destruction of the environment.
Lopez also noted the problem of corruption, stressing that it is an issue that she will not take lightly.
“The first thing I want to do is to clean the ranks of DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources). Those who are receiving bribes, your days are over. Stop it, no corruption is acceptable. That’s enough, it’s over,” she said.
Lopez said she aims to work with various sectors to address different environment problems, such as with the Department of Transportation and Communications to solve air pollution.
She also highlighted the importance of harnessing the support of the youth.
“I want a way to work with the youth. They are the key, the environmentalists. I want to work with everyone,” said Lopez.
Duterte initially offered the DENR post to the Left, but later said he would need to appoint someone who would ensure that his environment policies would be implemented.
The DENR post was among the last Cabinet positions filled by Duterte.
Business as usual
Pressed to comment on Lopez’s appointment to the DENR, businessman Manuel Pangilinan said they would wait for her to announce her policy even as he committed to respect whatever it would be.
“It is entirely the prerogative of the president to name whoever it is he wants to name. We respect Gina Lopez to be the DENR secretary…Our attitude is that it’s business as usual. We have a mining business. We have an operating mine in Baguio and for us, we have to take the view that it is business as usual,” Pangilinan said.
“There will be in the future I guess when the mine will require certain permits. We will then have to submit our applications. We will just have to work with the hand that we will be dealt and work with the environment that we are given,” he said.
At the same time, he said that the MVP Group is an advocate for responsible mining and responsible business practices in general.
Mining stocks tumbled four percent on Tuesday when Duterte announced that he offered the DENR post to Lopez, who heads the ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation, which includes a no-to-mining campaign.
Open to meet stakeholders
Lopez said she is open to meet with stakeholders in the mining industry.
Her media relations officer at the foundation said “she can meet pro-mining advocates so she could make suggestions on how to address concerns in the industry.”
“However, it is best if Ms. Lopez answers the issue of ‘mining and oil stocks plunging’ when she returns from Japan,” the staff said.
Meanwhile, the Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation Inc., which Lopez heads, expressed full support for her decision to accept the position of DENR secretary.
“Gina Lopez’s laudable and pioneering efforts in rehabilitating the La Mesa Watershed, in restoring the Pasig River through cleaning the esteros and in launching the ecotourism sites in the 13 provinces all over the archipelago are testaments to her dedication and passion to protect, conserve and promote the environment,” the foundation said in a statement.
The group said Lopez is known for her passion and dedication toward protecting the environment.
Policy in limbo
However, a business group said an unclear mining policy of the incoming administration has left both the government and the business sector on a wait-and-see mode, probably jeopardizing efforts to make the country’s minerals work in its favor.
“What Duterte said was he feels that we should have mining, but it should be sustainable,” said Doris Magsaysay-Ho, co-chair of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Advisory Council.
“Now, how that connects to what Gina is going to do, I don’t know yet,” she told reporters yesterday. – With Iris Gonzales, Christina Mendez, Prinz Magtulis, Rhodina Villanueva