MEMBERS of the Commission on Appointments, including a staunch ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, on Tuesday questioned Environment Secretary Regina Lopez about her bias against the mining industry, criticizing her for her “arbitrary” decisions that has led to a halt in the operations of several mining firms.
Senators Alan Cayetano and Panfilo Lacson, as well as San Juan City Rep. Ronaldo Zamora, raised the issue during the resumption of her confirmation hearing.
“We want to confirm you Ma’am, but we want to make sure we will not have an arbitrary DENR [Department of Environment and Natural Resources],” Cayetano said, noting that the country could use investments to develop its $1 trillion worth of natural resources.
“Is there some kind of mining that’s okay, or are all mining inherently evil? It seems under your administration, you focused on the negative, and for people to stay away from these industries,” the senator added.
Occidental Mindoro Rep. Josephine Sato also questioned a memorandum order issued by Lopez in January requiring suspended mining firms to place P2 million into a trust fund for every hectare affected by their operations.
“I do not question the reason for that memorandum circular but I question the basis for you asking or requiring mining operations to pay that P2 million. What was the basis of you imposing this requirement?” Sato said.
Lopez replied that imposing the P2-million fund was her “prerogative.”
“From my point of view, the fact that we should take care of our farmers was enough reason for me,” she added.
Cayetano also asked Lopez if the DENR has a program to promote responsible mining to potential investors.
“Do you have a promotional video to show the rest of the world that if [you’re into] responsible mining, you are welcome here? [That] you can invest in mining?”
Lopez answered: “Of course not, we have no promotional videos for mining.”
Senator Emmanuel Pacquiao Jr. said there is a 50-percent chance that Lopez may lose her confirmation vote.
“It’s still a 50-50 chance for Gina,” he said.
After three hearings, the 25-member CA committee on environment and natural resources chaired by Pacquiao ended the deliberations on Lopez’s appointment Tuesday.
A decision is expected May 3 on whether Lopez—whose appointment has been opposed by 23 parties—will be confirmed.
As a member of the majority bloc, Pacquiao added, he would vote for her confirmation.
During the hearing, Lopez also defended herself against Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez’s claim that she failed to comply with due process in ordering the closure of 23 mines and the suspension of five others. “They passed judgment on me,” she said.
Asked by Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV if she was an extreme person, Lopez said she did not know what that meant.
“I love my country and I love the people and I’m non-negotiable on my principles,” she said.
“I’m a very out of the box person. I work with the NPA [New People’s Army], I work, I work with the MILF [Moro Islamic Liberation Front], I work with the mining companies so I’m very out of the box so I can do anything and everything but my nonnegotiable commitment is to our people and the principles of integrity. I’m never gonna budge there because something in me will die,” she said.
“But in terms of possibilities of what can happen, my God! My other favorite song is I Believe I Can Fly…so I wanna fly and then just fly and then fly with everyone and work with everyone like every single person here in this room has a dream…”
A video of Lopez singing “I Believe I can Fly,” has been making the rounds of social media, where it has been greeted with disbelief and ridicule.
Lacson, for his part, said the hearing was intended to give Lopez an opportunity to answer the issues raised against her by Dominguez and 23 other parties that opposed her confirmation.
Duterte reappointed Lopez after she was bypassed by the CA twice. Under CA rules, she may no longer be reappointed if she is bypassed again.