Lopez unfazed by possible graft raps
Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - February 20, 2017 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Environment Secretary Gina Lopez is unfazed by possible graft charges that mining firms may file against her.

Lopez stood firm on her decision to close down 28 operations and cancel 75 mining contracts.

“I have followed the law at every step of the way. I am backed up by the Constitution and law and everything I have done is within my powers as DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) secretary,” Lopez told The STAR.

Lopez was responding to claims of the mining industry that she is violating the Revised Administrative Code of 1987 of the Civil Service Commission, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees and Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

Industry sources bared majority of the affected mining companies are planning to file graft cases against Lopez for lack of due process in her orders to close down the operations of several mining firms.

Lopez refused to address the possible graft charges, saying it might hamper her scheduled confirmation by the Commission on Appointments (CA).

“I don’t do things to get confirmation. I do things because it’s the right thing to do. I just let the dice fall where they may,” Lopez said.

“We simply cannot and must not mine our watersheds. We have a severe water shortage coming because of climate change,” she added.

Lopez has failed to get the nod of the CA and was just reappointed by President Duterte as DENR chief.

Her confirmation was originally slated last Feb.15 but she requested to have it rescheduled to March 1.

In a separate interview over the weekend, Ronald Recidoro, legal and policy vice president of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP), maintained companies that will choose to file cases against Lopez have the right to do so as stated in their contracts.

“We insist on due process. We feel that her announcements failed to comply with due process. She cancelled and suspended operations without giving firms the opportunity to rebut the finding against them or remediate the alleged violations,” Recidoro said.

Stakeholders also urged the government to put in motion Resolution No. 6 of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) to form a multi-stakeholder committee that will review and advise the DENR on the operations of mining companies in the country.

“While we are grateful (for the resolution), we are also confused because Lopez seems to have other ideas,” Recidoro said.

“We’d really like to see some clarity on the multi-stakeholder review, who’s going to head and what would be the objectives,” he added.

The MICC resolution states that the review shall be based on the guidelines and parameters set forth in the specific mining contract and other pertinent laws, taking into account the valid exercise of the state’s police power to serve the common good.

The MICC will have its organizational meeting today that will include relevant government agencies and other institutions.

Investors and labor worries

While international and local business communities have expressed uncertainties towards the current investment environment in the country, Lopez maintained that investors who put premium on local communities and the environment are the only ones welcome.

Some investors are now worried about putting money into business ventures, as they might lose their investments overnight due to the recent pronouncements of Lopez.

Lopez, however, assured foreign investors that they should not be worried if their businesses do not cause environmental degradation and suffering in areas in which they operate.

Lopez clarified that she is not against mining ventures as long as they do not cause damage to the watersheds and the local communities.

“If they invest and rape the country, I prefer that they go away. We want investments that will help us, like investments in our biodiversity, investments which will pay our people well. We welcome investments in areas where they can make money, but they are helping everybody else improve also,” she said.

About $22 billion worth of mining investments in the pipeline were supposed to be developed since 2013 but are now on hold.

No mass displacement

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), on the other hand, said there will be no massive displacement of workers in the mining industry.

Labor Undersecretary Joel Maglunsod, however, noted closures of mining companies might affect over 20,000 mining workers in the Caraga Region.

“There is no suspension yet, but based on our data, about 20,589 mining workers may possibly be affected with the closure of 13 mining firms,” Maglunsod said.

Of these workers likely to be affected, Maglunsod said half or about 10,974 are direct-hires while the rest are under contract or sub-contract employment.

“There is off-season in the mining industry because of the weather. Operations of mining companies slow down when the weather is bad,” Maglunsod pointed out.

He further noted that one of the companies listed for closure, Claver Mineral Development Corp., closed down in 2015.

DOLE has yet to undertake a study on the possible impact of mining firms’ closures on employment.

Maglunsod said he personally supports the decision of Lopez to close down mining firms because of the negative impact on the environment.

“Mining can be very destructive to our environment aside from violations on health safety standards,” he said.

Maglunsod said the DOLE regional offices where there are mining companies are preparing package of assistance for mining workers who would be displaced.

Assistance will be given to affected mining workers through the DOLE’s Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers Program (TUPAD).

Those to be hired under TUPAD will be paid with the regional minimum wage and will be working for a minimum of 15 days and maximum of 30 days.

DOLE will also extend training for workers wanting to upgrade their skills with the help of the Technical Education Skills and Development Authority (TESDA). – Mayen Jaymalin, Elizabeth Marcelo

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