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Lopez stands by decision on mining rehab fund

DENR Secretary Gina Lopez talks to an employee of the department  during a protest  to express indignation over her decision to bring in her own team, replacing career officials in the process.               Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines -  Environment Secretary Gina Lopez stands firm on her decision to require a P2-million rehabilitation fund from mining companies before they will be allowed to remove and export their ore stockpiles.

Lopez wants each mining firm to open a trust fund account of P2 million for every hectare of exploited land before it would be allowed to remove stockpiles from mining areas and given export permits.

“If they (mining companies) want to remove the stockpiles, they should comply. They have so much money,” Lopez told reporters in a chance interview yesterday.

“They are going to make billions of pesos with the stockpile, can’t they give P2 million for the farmlands? What’s wrong with that?” she added.

Mining stakeholders have been contesting Lopez’s decision, saying it has no legal basis.

They said her directive is contrary to the previously imposed implementing rules and regulations.

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“Then question it. In the Mining Act, we should take care of the resources in a way that benefits the community. If somebody is doing mining and a lot of farmers are suffering, then that is what’s against the law,” Lopez insisted.

The new trust fund is separate from and on top of the existing rehabilitation trust fund set up by the government, as required under the Philippine Mining Act.

“They are going to make these money, they have a rehabilitation fund but that fund is not going to be able to take care of the farmers that are out of the rehabilitation areas. Who’s going to take care of them?” Lopez said.

“In my authority as DENR secretary, why can’t I say that you’re going to make billions, why don’t you put aside a certain amount of money for the farmers that have been disadvantaged because of your practices,” she added.

Lopez also denied allegations that she is abusing her power as environment chief by imposing additional payments on mining companies.

“You take care of the farmers, that’s what I’m asking for. Is there anything wrong with that? The money will not be for the DENR but for the farmers,” Lopez said.

The industry is already mulling legal cases against Lopez and the DENR over her order.

‘I lost my cool’

Lopez, meanwhile, admitted that she lost her cool after a recent encounter with a BusinessWorld reporter whom she called a “f**ing employee.”

“There’s no excuse for losing your cool and I lost my cool. But why out in the news? I’m not maligning anyone,” Lopez said.

The environment chief admitted she already had issues with the reporter even before the encounter on Thursday.

“Whenever she asks me questions, she’s already made up her mind. Even if I talk about social justice and concern for the poor, she had her mind set already,” Lopez said.

“I have issue with BusinessWorld. I was taped without my knowing, then they made it news. I feel that my privacy was violated,” she added. Lopez reiterated that the incident was not properly presented in the media.

“I feel the whole thing was blown out of proportion and what’s the agenda? To put a hole in my character,” Lopez said.

This was not the first time Lopez got involved in a heated argument with a reporter.

She earlier unleashed a tirade against a Manila Times reporter on live television after the reporter questioned her over the cancellation of mining contracts.

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