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Miners say agony over with Gina Lopez's rejection

Acting Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez gestures during a news conference following the rejection of her appointment as a cabinet member by the Commission on Appointments based on the recommendation of its committee on environment and natural resources Wednesday, May 3, 2017, in Pasay city south of Manila, Philippines. Lopez, whose family owns the country's largest television network, was the second cabinet member to be rejected by a majority of the members of the commission under President Rodrigo Duterte. Lopez ordered the closure and suspension of dozens of mines she says harm the environment and residents. AP Photo/Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines — The local mining industry has woken up from a 10-month long nightmare after the Commission on Appointments (CA) rejected Gina Lopez as chief of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) after three hearings, stakeholders said.

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) said the CA members decision to not confirm Lopez is a welcome development for the industry, which has been under the scrutiny of the department during Lopez’s stint as DENR head.

“Of course, we are very thankful. We have been agonizing for the past 10 months. I just think that we made our point and we were able to discuss the issues we brought forward. We were able to articulate the points that we want,” COMP Executive Vice President Nelia Halcon told The STAR.

RELATED: Appointment body rejects Gina Lopez as DENR chief

Among the Cabinet members, Lopez faced the strongest opposition after mining companies and mining host communities filed their position papers against her confirmation.

Halcon emphasized that the industry believed in the objectivity of the CA in coming up with the decision as Lopez failed to explain the legalities of her recent decisions and policy making, rendering her unfit for the position.

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RELATED: Miners urge CA to reject Gina Lopez over legality of orders

“We are thankful to the commission for the speedy resolution of her nomination. This is not the end, but rather the beginning of a new chapter for the mining industry,” COMP Legal and Policy Vice President Ronald Recidoro added in a separate phone interview with The STAR.

“We should not make it a point that it is environment versus mining. That’s why we have sustainable development. You develop at the same time you work on the rehabilitation,” Halcon noted.

Now that Lopez has been rejected, the industry is moving toward the review of the major orders and pronouncements which the former DENR chief signed in the past few months.

These include the closure and suspension of some 28 mining companies, cancellation of 75 more mining contracts, and the banning of the open pit mining method nationwide.

“We will have to challenge those and have it reviewed or even revoked by the next DENR secretary,” Recidoro said.

“Anybody [who] will replace her will review all these things. That person should get the views of Luis Jacinto (Mines and Geosciences Bureau director) and we believe that all these things should be considered,” Halcon added.

READ: Gina Lopez: Business interests ran the day

Meanwhile, the chamber is optimistic that whoever President Rodrigo Duterte will appoint as replacement will be more positive on the country’s natural resource development.

Officials of Duterte’s party, PDP-Laban, his fraternity Lex Talionis Fraternitas Inc. and other allied groups came out endorsing professor Mark Tolentino, a young lawyer from Mindanao, to replace Lopez.

"We don’t know yet anything about him but we always give each secretary the benefit of the doubt. We will also do our own investigation," Recidoro said.

Tolentino, 37, is an alumnus of the San Beda Law School, where Duterte also took up law, and is a member of Lex Talionis.

He was also the sole candidate of PDP-Laban in Caraga region where he ran for mayor of Cabadbaran City in the May 2016 elections.

“While this chapter has been closed, we begin on doing a lot of things on the productive side and on enticing investors to pursue feasible environmentally-friendly and mining endeavors that can help the administration pursue its goal for the economy,” Halcon said.

“We will have to work doubly hard to uplift the industry. We reiterate our commitment to work with the DENR and the next Secretary to protect the environment and promote the responsible use of our natural resources,” Recidoro added.

‘An environment disaster’

While the mining industry seems to be in a celebratory mood, environment groups and advocates called Lopez’s rejection as a disaster for the environment sector.

“This is a tragedy for the environment as well as for the rights and welfare of our people. Lopez’s rejection is a betrayal of the people, and specifically of mining-affected communities who are protecting their lives and livelihoods by resisting destructive large-scale mining,” Alyansa Tigil Mina national coordinator Jaybee Garganera said.

He emphasized that it was clear that the mining industry exerted efforts to block the confirmation of Lopez.

“But we are not disheartened, regardless of who will replace her, we will continue to strengthen our ranks to end destructive mining operations that is killing our people and destroying our country,” he added.
The group noted that the endorsement of Duterte and the public’s clamor as manifested in social media and in a recent survey for the confirmation of Lopez were no match against the lobby of the mining industry.

“Clearly our Congress does not represent the Filipino people. It only shows that politicians are still not to be trusted to think and decide beyond their self-interests,” Garganera said.

Furthermore, Green Thumb Coalition said the rejection of Lopez demonstrates the continued control of powerful destructive industries such as mining in the country’s legislative houses.

The network of environmental advocates said the interests of the mining industry won over the people’s constitutional rights for a healthy and balanced ecology.

“Duterte’s call for change no longer resonates with the millions of people who are longing for a government for and by the people. The rejection showed the limited interpretation of legislators in implementing or enforcing environmental laws,” the coalition said.

“The CA sided with the few who made billions of money out of the misery of the hundreds of thousand of Filipinos by refusing to believe that due process was made during the audit,” it added.

While the rejection is a big setback for the fight for a sustainable future, Green Thumb maintained that it is also a sign for various sectors to pursue vigorous work to ensure that the support system is protected and conserved.

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