Philippines: Defiant environment secretary vows not to quit

Philippines Defiant environment secretary vows not to quit

Manila: Environment Secretary Gina Lopez vowed not to quit her job after President Rodrigo Duterte overturned her decision to immediately close 28 mining firms due to environment neglect, but hinted she might be ousted because of politics.

“As long as I can feel I can continue to serve the country, I will (stay). I won’t cop out. I’ll stay as long as I can make a difference,” Lopez bravely said in Malacanang, the presidential palace, the complete transcript of which reached reporters on Saturday.

“It’s premature to say anything. Nobody (has) told me to quit now,” Lopez said, but added, “I was thinking I don’t know how long I’m gonna last here. My status with (the) Commission on Appointments (CA) is coming.”

Recalling that her appointment was stalled in the Senate last year, Lopez said, “Remember that time when my name was not given (by the president for approval to the CA)? I was surprised. I said (then), ‘I was doing really well. I rated top in Pulse Asia (survey).’ So I thought, ‘Politics muddles issues.’

“I’m here because, one, I like the president. He’s really, really, really genuine. He’s really real. He has a stand on social justice,” said Lopez, adding, “If he decides (to overrule my order to close 28 mining firms) I will be quite sad.”

Duterte agreed with several cabinet members, led by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, that the 28 suspended mining firms must operate and undergo final due process as they appeal their case — for the sake of 1.2 million people in mining communities.

“I like the job. I like the fact that you can say (to erring mining firms), ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that,’” said Lopez, a member of the rich family that owns ABS CBN, a TV network.

At 18, after studying at Assumption College and Newton College of the Sacred Heart in Boston, Lopez left home in the 70s and became a yoga missionary in Portugal, India, and Africa for 20 years. She turned environment activist and poverty alleviation advocate since she returned to Manila in the 90s.

“My stand in life is truth, service, and the common good. Before I took on the job, I have a meditation teacher who told me, ‘Regina, politics is really messy,’“ said Lopez, adding, “Politics is a dimension of money and power and that just makes everything confusing. The political scenario (now) is unpredictable. You’ll never know what will happen (next).”

“Will I survive here (in government)?’ My spirituality is the reason why I live. I did not want to get into a job where that would be sacrificed,” said Lopez.

“The reason why I agreed (to be a cabinet member) was — in one meditation, I saw the heart of the country. I felt that as long as I stay true, I would be able to make a difference. And it might be good for me spiritually. I have to stay true (to my spirituality),” she concluded.

In 2010, former president Benigno Aquino also shook the mining industry: he called for 5 per cent royalty tax for mining permits in mining reservations, increased filing fee charges; and synchronised local and national regulations of the mining industry — but Congress did not pass laws for these proposals. Aquino issued an executive order that banned new mining permits, which affected 1,828 mining applications in 2010.

About 30 million hectares of land in the Philippines have an estimated $1.4 trillion worth of reserves in aluminium, chromite, copper, and gold. Metal deposit is estimated at 21.5 billion metric tons; non- metallic deposits, 19.3 billion metric tons. About 999 approved mining applications cover only one million hectares of lands nationwide.

Philippine minerals exported to Australia, Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, United States, and the United Kingdom earned low, $3.2 billion in 2010, $4 billion in 2015.

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