GROUPS opposing and supporting the appointment of Environment Secretary Regina Lopez held separate rallies Wednesday, but her confirmation hearings were postponed to next week because of a reorganization in the Senate.
Lopez’s supporters—estimated to be at 3,000—gathered outside the Senate and held a Mass marking Ash Wednesday, while groups opposing her appointment—about 5,000—held a rally outside the Department of Environment and Natural Resources central office in Quezon City.
Some of the protesters came from as far as Mindanao, where most of the mining companies that Lopez ordered closed operate.
Jacob Arroyo, a mine worker from Dinagat, where Lopez closed down seven large-scale nickel mines, said he is not used to attending rallies but that he was compelled because his job is at stake.
“Dinagat was a declared mineral land since 1939, so who is Gina Lopez to deprive us of the only livelihood we know?” said Arroyo.
Arroyo also blamed Lopez’s chief consultant, Leo Jasareno, for supposedly influencing Lopez on her decision to close down the mines “without due process.”
Jasareno is the former director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau who was axed by President Rodrigo Duterte but retained by Lopez as a principal adviser.
Dulmar Raagas, president of the Chamber of Mines-Caraga Region Inc., who also led a contingent of mining workers in the DENR protest, said Lopez was unfit to hold the position because of her “inability to separate her mindless advocacy from her role as a regulator.”
“A conscientious regulator is impartial and objective, weighing things according to existing laws and not based on her feelings,” said Raagas, who came all the way from Surigao City.
In Caraga alone, 20,589 mining jobs are at stake, according to Evelyn R. Ramos, regional director of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE-Caraga).
Roger de Dios, regional director of MGB-Caraga said the closures would hurt some 300,000 individuals in Caraga Region.
The figure, De Dios said, includes regular and seasonal mine workers and their dependents, as well as employees of mine suppliers, subcontractors and the service sectors that cater to mining firms.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III on Wednesday issued a statement denying that he was siding with the mining companies, but was merely ensuring that due process was followed and that contract obligations are respected.
“Secretary Dominguez himself has stressed in a Tuesday news briefing at Malacañang that the only position he supports is that of President Duterte, which is to follow due process and honor all contracts in dealing with all kinds of activities in government,” a spokesman for Dominguez, Finance Assistant Secretary Paola Alvarez, said.
Alvarez said that it was only natural for Dominguez and several Cabinet members to be concerned about the impact of the DENR’s actions on local employment and finance, considering that estimates by the DOF-attached Bureau of Local Government Finance (BLGF) show that the closure and suspension orders will cost 17 affected cities and municipalities in 10 provinces over P821 million annually in foregone revenues.
Three of these municipalities—Carrascal in Surigao del Norte, Tagana-an in Surgao del Norte and Tubajon in Dinagat Islands—will lose revenues representing over 50 percent of their current operating income if the affected mine sites are shut down or forced to suspend operations.
BLGF estimates show that Carrascal will lose P198.3 million of its mining revenues, which represent 62.3 percent of its total operating income, while Tagana-an will lose P70.3 million or 54 percent of its total operating income. Tubajon will shed P38 million, or 55.4 percent of its total operating income if the DENR order is implemented.
Of this amount, local collections of the affected LGUs from mining firms amounted to P340 million, comprising real property taxes (RPTs) of P53.54 million, P263.13 million from business tax, fees, charges and other local charges, and P23.29 million from provincial revenues.
The share of the affected LGUs from mining taxes collected by the national government account for P481.17 million.
Aside from the two Surigao provinces and Dinagat islands, the other provinces affected by the closure or suspension orders are Benguet, Nueva Vizcaya, Palawan, Cebu, Bulacan, Zambales and Eastern Samar.
BLGF’s estimates do not include yet the projected income losses of the LGUs that host 75 mine sites whose MPSAs were ordered canceled by the DENR.
Early last month, Lopez announced the closure of 23 mining companies and suspension of five others, citing the results of a mining audit that she has not made public. The move would throw 19,000 workers out of work, and affect tens of thousands of others who indirectly benefit from these mining operations.
Dominguez said earlier the sustainability of the economy, aside from employment and local government finances, would be affected by the DENR decision.
On Feb. 9, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said President Duterte and his Cabinet would observe due process before shutting down or suspending the operations of 28 mining sites located in 10 provinces.
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