THE House contingent to the powerful Commission on Appointments rebuffed Environment Secretary Regina Lopez, who was seeking an audience with the lawmakers ahead of her confirmation hearing, after she accused them of accepting bribes of P50 million each to vote against her.
San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora, chairman of the House contingent to the bicameral body, said he canceled the courtesy call Lopez requested on Monday and decided to just see her during the CA hearing next Wednesday.
“I have canceled Gina’s courtesy call on our contingent on Monday, and will just meet her in open sessions on Wednesday at her confirmation hearings,” Zamora told the Manila Standard.
Members of the powerful panel were aghast at the charges Lopez made in a speech to the Makati Rotary Club last Tuesday when she lashed at her critics and claimed to have received information that CA members were promised P50 million each if they blocked her confirmation.
“My confirmation is on March 1. Let the [sword] fall where it may. I don’t care. I was told that every congressman was offered P50 million if they voted against me. I don’t know. I heard there’s a kitty out there. I don’t know. That’s people talking,” Lopez told the businessmen.
“To my detractors, stop it already, I mean if you’re gonna fight, at least fight clean. These are below the belt attacks. For example, Inquirer puts headlines, which are not even true. Manila Standard puts things, which are not even true. Play the game well. If you think that what I’m doing is not right, at least tell the truth,” Lopez said in a video she posted on her Facebook page.
Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III was incensed by Lopez’ accusations.
“She heard? She just heard and she took it already as gospel truth? What’s her motive for making it public? So that people would think the CA members got bribed when the congressmen vote against her?” Albano asked.
“We definitely would want to know who wanted to bribe the congressmen with P50 million. Who are they? How about the senators? How much did they get?
“Did they also bother to approach Senator Loren Legarda, a staunch environmentalist, and offered her millions? I would just love to know how Senator Legarda will react to that,” he said, adding that Lopez should have foreseen the opposition against her.
“What did she expect? She ran over so many. These aggrieved parties definitely do not want her there at the DENR. [But] at the same time, those who support her advocacies are lobbying hard for her,” Albano said.
Albano said Lopez “should stop acting like a prima donna and instead explain why she deserve to be a DENR secretary despite strong opposition against her confirmation by several sectors.”
But other congressmen lambasted Lopez for making wild accusations against legislators when she does not even attend congressional hearings on mining-related bills pending at the House.
Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers said resources persons in congressional hearings in aid of legislation should not just ignore invitations from Congress.
“The committee should reprimand her and send a strongly worded letter to her for ignoring the [invitation] of the committee,” Barbers said.
“She should be taught that she cannot ignore the invite; otherwise, the committee should cite her for contempt,” Barbers added.
The committee, chaired by Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate, is considering 11 mining-related bills and invited Lopez to attend, but she declined the invitation without any explanation.
Lopez earlier earned the ire of lawmakers after she snubbed the hearing conducted by the House committee on ecology on the adverse environmental impact of mining.
Lopez this month closed 23 mining companies and suspended five others for alleged violations of environmental laws. She later canceled 75 mining contracts with companies that she accused of damaging watersheds and causing siltation of coastal waters and farmlands.
Deputy Speaker and South Cotabato Rep. Ferdinand Hernandez earlier suggested to the committee, chaired by Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita Suansing, that it issue a subpoena to Lopez to compel her attendance.
“Since this is not the first time the DENR secretary did not attend this committee’s hearing, there has to be a strongly worded letter from the chairperson to compel the DENR secretary to attend the next hearing and a warning for a subpoena if she fails again to attend it,” Hernandez said.
Suansing’s panel moved to send another invitation compelling her to attend the next hearing on March 1, 2017.
Suansing said Lopez, who has been under intense criticism for her decision, has already snubbed three hearings of his panel.
They also vowed to grill Lopez and make her explain her reported “squandering away” of millions in public funds over environment projects that benefited her and her family owned ABS-CBN Foundation Inc., among other issues raised against her.
These were multimillion projects that spanned several years under the previous administrations at the expense of the government, they said. The projects included the Sabsaban Falls Eco-tourism project in Palawan, the La Mesa Ecopark project in Quezon City and the Pasig River Rehabilitation project.
Lopez herself answered the controversy on her Facebook page and maintained that her department “followed due process every step of the way.”
“To the mining companies, you talk about contracts, [but] how about our contract to life? I have every right and it is my duty and obligation to review contracts in light of the common good,” she said.
“That is the duty of government: To check which contracts benefit everyone, and then if we see that a contract was made that affects the community, it’s our duty and responsibility to help them.”
On Wednesday, the Philippine Nickel Industry Association (PNIA) said Lopez was unfit to lead the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Expressing its opposition to her confirmation as DENR secretary, the group said Lopez willfully circumvented due process when she disregarded the findings of a technical review committee to suspend erring mining companies.
“Secretary Lopez’s deep-seated bias against mining in general has compromised her ability to lead a government agency. Her personal views about mining have unfairly portrayed the mining industry as the villain and has damaged the reputation of many responsible mining companies in the country in the eyes of the general public,” the PNIA said.
The nickel miners said her decision to close mining companies on her own without basis was already enough grounds to disqualify her for a Cabinet post on the grounds of gross misconduct, gave abuse of power and conduct unbecoing of a public officer.
Benguet Corp Nickel Mines Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Benguet Corp., said Wednesday Lopez has no legal basis in canceling its mining contract in Zambales province.
In a disclosure to the stock exchange, the mining company said that the order failed to identify specific environmental violations of BNMI that would warrant cancellation of its mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA) with the government.
“As in the suspension order, we strongly object to such arbitrary actions being made without observance of due process and without basis in fact and in law,” said BNMI president Leopoldo S. Sison III.
DENR’s order alleged that BNMI has impaired the function of the watershed in the area.
But Sison said the company’s approved MPSA issued in 2005 states that BNMI’s contract area is located within the Zambales Chromite Mineral Reservation.
“This specific mineral reservation has been excluded from government declared watersheds as proven by area clearance issued by the DENR prior to the MPSA approval. Our nickel project continues to be operated outside of any known, critical or declared watershed,” Sison said. With Anna Leah E. Gonzales
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