SENATOR Panfilo Lacson said Environment Secretary Regina Lopez is deemed bypassed by the Commission on Appointments because she would not be able to attend its next hearing on March 14 before Congress takes a break next week.
“Since Secretary Lopez will be out of the country on a personal trip and there’s no more plenary… she is deemed bypassed,” Lacson, a member of the CA, said in a text message to reporters Thursday night.
He said President Rodrigo Duterte may reappoint her if she is bypassed, but said she could also be rejected by the CA’s committee on environment and natural resources chaired by Senator Manny Pacquiao, when it holds an executive session on Tuesday to decide her fate.
The CA en banc will then decide whether to accept or reject the committee’s recommendation.
“Her fate will still be deliberated by the commission proper,” Lacson said, noting that she could be rejected like Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. because she failed to convince CA members with her answers to questions that they raised.
During hearings on her appointment, members of the CA chided her for imposing her own standards on mining companies, even though they complied with international standards such as ISO 14001.
Some members of the CA also questioned her order to close or suspend 28 mining companies and to cancel 75 mineral production and sharing agreements without going through due process.
More than 20 groups opposed Lopez’s appointment before the CA, citing her lack of knowledge and competence, her inability to set aside her own biases, and the conflicts of interest where Lopez-owned businesses were concerned.
“If we decide to vote on her confirmation or rejection, that’s just at the committee level,” Lacson said. “If it’s a rejection, but not by as many as 13 votes, we’ll leave her fate to the plenary.”
Earlier this week, Lacson, as chairman of the committee on foreign affairs, recommended that Yasay’s appointment be rejected by the plenary, after 15 of its members unanimously voted the Foreign Affairs secretary for lying to the Senate about his American citizenship.
“[It’s] just a reminder that when you respond to questions raised by the members of the commission, just bear in mind that you are here to convince us,” Lacson told Lopez during the last hearing.
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, one of more than 20 who opposed Lopez’s confirmation, said it was confident the CA would reject her appointment.
“We thank the CA and Senator Manny Pacquiao for hearing all the oppositors. Lopez displayed her incapacity to lead the DENR. She relied heavily on her team of consultants,” said the chamber’s chairman, Artemio Disini.
“The chamber is confident that she was not able to convince the CA,” he added.
The chamber’s vice president for legal and policy, Ronald Recidoro, said the mining industry could no longer work with Lopez because she continued to disregard the law.
“We want them [CA] to know that we cannot work with her [Lopez]. We tried very hard and it appears that we really cannot work with her. It appears that if she continues to stay in place, then we believe that the industry is really in peril,” Recidoro said.
Recidoro said that if Lopez continues to stay in her position, there will be no growth for the mining industry.
“For us in the mining industry it is imperative that Secretary Lopez be rejected and replaced with someone who understands natural resources management and can bring our resources out of the ground for the benefit of everybody,” he said.
Recidoro also appealed to President Duterte not to reappoint Lopez if she is bypassed.
“Please do not reappoint her. Let’s end this suffering.” he said.
Pacquiao’s committee heard the 23 oppositors during hearings Wednesday and Thursday.
Lopez’s appointment will be considered bypassed if the CA fails to come up with a decision before Congress adjourns on March 18.
Mining companies and other industry stakeholders earlier slammed Lopez after she announced the closure of 23 mining companies and the suspension of five others due to alleged environmental violations.
She also announced that the government will cancel 75 mining contracts of companies who have operations within watersheds.
Lopez on Thursday said no workers had been displaced or lost their jobs with the mine closures, but Mine Workers League president Daniel Calimlim disputed her claim.
“Since the suspension, thousands have in fact lost their jobs, scholars have not been awarded their tuition and allowances. The people are suffering. She promised that the government will provide jobs for displaced workers but so far, these people still have no work,” Calimlim said.
Calimlim said that in Zambales, close to 6,000 mine workers in Sta. Cruz have already been displaced.
“It is not true that only one percent of mining workers will be affected. Many already lost their jobs. The government failed to give alternative livelihood. The secretary is lying and we feel that she betrayed the workers,” Calimlim said. “She is a liar and incompetent.”
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