Someone I know said that Gina Lopez’ rejection at the Commission on Appointments was written in the stars. I retorted, no, it was written in the pockets of people with big interest in mining. The President himself implied as much when he said in a public gathering that he felt sorry for having lost Gina in his Cabinet but there was nothing he could do because “lobby money talks.” The members of the Commission on Appointments, of course, balked at the talk of lobby money or any suggestion of money changing hands but, true or not, the general public now believes that it was not on the basis of love of country or principles that the legislators voted against the confirmation of Environment Secretary Regina Lopez.
As far back as March 9 when I attended a hearing on the confirmation of Gina, I knew in my heart that Gina’s appointment had no chance of getting the nod of the Commission on Appointments. The members of the Chamber of Mines who opposed her appointment filled the halls of the Senate. There were even placard-bearing rallyists outside the Senate who purportedly went there on their own, coming from various regions of the country. But this was not all. I, together with a couple of priests and my husband, had the chance to speak to a prominent member of the Chamber of Mines who is president of a big mining firm. We asked if there was a way for a compromise so that Gina’s appointment would not be opposed by the Chamber and for the companies observing responsible mining to be able to continue operating. His answer was shockingly telling. He said, “No there is no compromising, Gina has to go.” His statement suggested that they—those with big interests in mining—were in control of how the Commission would vote.
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The confirmation process Gina Lopez went through set a record of many firsts, giving hope that the rejection of her appointment was not in vain. For the first time, the country’s major networks joined hands in giving substantial air time to the issues Gina wanted the Filipino people to understand. This, despite the fact that Gina belongs to the clan that owns broadcast giant, ABS CBN. Another media giant, GMA 7, for example, allotted a big chunk of the evening news for an interview by Jessica Soho with Gina after her CA rejection. This gave Gina the chance to explain to the public that what she is fighting for is social justice, especially for the poor sectors of society who suffer the most from the destructive effects of mining. She read provisions in the Philippine Constitution on state policies. One was Sec.16 Article II that “The state shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.” Another was Sec. 10 Article II that “The state shall promote social justice in all phases of national development.” Social justice, she explained, is the reason why she wants mining companies to compensate people in communities who get displaced by mining operations or who can no longer fish or till the land because mining has poisoned the earth and the bodies of fresh water where they live.
For the first time too the Filipino people became so involved that her rejection has sparked protests, with more such actions being planned in the coming days. What the news called as another first was that the members of the CA resorted to secret balloting in an executive session indicating that many of those who voted against Gina did not want to displease someone, perhaps Gina herself, or President Rodrigo R. Duterte who has always been supportive of Gina. And what was striking was that the members of the Liberal party voted as a bloc for Gina while those identified with the administration did not. Those who voted for Gina were eight, namely: Senators Manny Pacquiao, Vicente Sotto III, JV Ejercito, Loren Legarda, Ralph Recto, Francis Pangilinan, Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino and Franklin Drilon.
Gina Lopez may not have succeeded in staying on as Environment secretary. What she has started though, in trying to save the Environment from destruction to preserve it for the Filipinos for generations to come, cannot just be undone by whoever will take her place despite the influence of big business. People are now more aware and conscious of their right to a healthful environment in accordance with the rhythm and harmony of nature, as provided in the Constitution. People now know too that they have the power to reject mining, especially the open pit or dirty mining type. Further, Gina has opened the eyes of the legislators who support social justice and a healthful environment of the need to review the Philippine Mining Law. They should start wondering why mining companies from countries with much bigger areas to mine, like Canada and Australia, flock to the Philippines. The laws and taxation on mining in these countries are much more stringent and prohibitive.