MANILA, Philippines - Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea yesterday found some support from Rep. Robert Ace Barbers in his order to suspend the P2-million trust fund that Environment Secretary Gina Lopez ordered imposed for every hectare of land disturbed by miners.
“She has to understand that this is all part of due process. Mining companies appealed to the Office of the President (OP), therefore, it is only imperative that they be given immediate relief until the President decides on the petitions,” Barbers said.
The Surigao del Norte congressman clarified that Medialdea’s decision to suspend “is not an opposition to Lopez’s proposed additional mine fund” as the “executive secretary has jurisdiction over appeals filed with the OP.”
“I firmly believe that Medialdea deferred the mine fund not because he counters President Duterte’s policy against destructive mining operations, but because the petitions center on this controversial trust fund,” Barbers added.
Lopez the other day slammed Medialdea for “counteracting” her order for mining firms to set up a P2-million trust fund for farmers affected by destructive mining as a pre-condition to the removal of stockpiles from mining areas and issuance of export permits.
The DENR chief said the Palace official is going against Duterte’s thrust of helping the poor by allowing mining companies to remove their stockpiles from mine sites even without paying P2 million in compensation for affected farmers.
“Medialdea has given a directive to all the mining companies counteracting my order and I’m really not happy about this at all. He has gone against my order and I don’t know what he’s thinking,” Lopez told environment reporters in a news briefing.
Medialdea denied contradicting Duterte’s stand against destructive mining policies.
“He is saying that mining companies can go ahead and take the stockpiles and there’s no need to put money for the farmers. Is that even fair?” Lopez was quoted saying.
Lopez said that based on information gathered by her team, mining companies have started removing their ore stockpiles without giving any amount as a result of Medialdea’s order.
“Since I gave the order, my team can stop them (from exporting). But now that Medialdea has placed the order, I cannot do anything. He counteracted each and every order in all areas and I can’t do anything about it,” Lopez said.
Lopez, who was reappointed after being bypassed by the Commission on Appointments (CA) when Congress went on recess last March 18, added that she has already texted Special Assistant to the President Bong Go regarding the issue but the latter has not replied yet.
Sen. Loren Legarda vowed to fight for her confirmation after Malacañang on Monday announced that Duterte has reappointed Lopez, Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo and Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial.
“I will support her (Lopez). I’ve supported her from the beginning. I will continue to support her. Her heart is in the right place and I hope that my colleagues in the commission will support her,” Legarda told reporters.
A former news anchor at the Lopez-owned ABS-CBN, Legarda expects the CA proceedings on Lopez’s appointment will be difficult even as she appealed to her colleagues in the bicameral body to consider her appointment.
Duterte will have to find a replacement for Lopez if the CA opts to bypass her appointment for the third time using the body’s new “three-strike” rule. Congress resumes session on May 2.
Over 20 groups and individuals have filed their formal opposition to Lopez’s appointment to the CA on various grounds, including grave abuse of authority, ignorance of the law, as well as graft.
Meanwhile, a group of environmentalists yesterday expressed support for Lopez’s plan to engage the New People’s Army (NPA) in her project to make communities in Agusan del Sur productive.
Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), said Lopez’s “crusade against big mining, destructive projects, their apologists in government, can be the foundation of a common program for environmental protection and rehabilitation towards just and lasting peace that the Duterte administration and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines can agree upon and co-implement.”
The group said President Duterte should also “pursue green talks” with the NDF, saying that the DENR can take the initiative in crafting a common environmental reform agenda with the revolutionary forces.
It added that the Duterte administration should take the cue from Lopez to step up efforts in garnering support in crafting and implementing a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) with a strong emphasis on environmental rehabilitation and protection.
The GRP-NDF peace panels convened a bilateral discussion last April 20 to accelerate the negotiations over CASER, a pact that mandates both signatory parties to implement social and economic reform programs on land reform and rural development, national industrialization and economic development, and environmental protection and rehabilitation, among others.
“Both the government and NDFP can implement priority environmental reforms such as the enforcement of mining closures and suspension orders, the crackdown on illegal and large-scale fish pens, and the subsequent rehabilitation of affected ecosystems even before the signing of the CASER,” Bautista explained.
He said the Duterte administration should pursue more environmental reforms in his government such as the massive rehabilitation of marine ecosystems, reforestation of denuded forests, job security and more benefits to government environmental workers, and providing justice to environmentalists killed and victims of environmental tragedies.
The group held a mass action in front of the DENR main office in Quezon City following Lopez’s pronouncement that she is willing to work with the NPA in developing Agusan del Sur into an ecological, economic and educational zone or “E3” zone
Lopez said they are doing an area development plan for the entire Agusan. – With Paolo Romero, Rhodina Villanueva