In a huge blow to the progressive wing of the Duterte administration, the Commission on Appointments (CA) rejected the reappointment of Gina Lopez as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
The move came as a shock to the country, given that Lopez was arguably the most popular appointee of President Duterte. Her courage to tackle big-money mining corporations, which were exposed to have been violating environmental laws, earned her respect among environmentalists. Lopez was fearless in this regard, but at the same time it was the reason for her downfall.
Throughout the course of her campaign against destructive mining, Lopez undeniably stepped on the toes of the influential. The mining industry have held a reputation to be a powerful lobby in the Philippines, the high profit margins they make while the locales their mines operate in remain poverty-stricken proves that that the wealth extracted only benefits one-way.
A staunch environmentalist, Lopez comes from a wealthy scion that owns the country’s biggest entertainment industry. Despite the grandiose background, Gina never ventured into the corporate side of her family’s company – instead choosing to handle the social advocacy aspect of ABS-CBN. She ran the company’s foundation, spearheading projects aimed to help the environment such as the clean-up of Pasig River.
Even before her appointment as a Cabinet secretary, Lopez already voiced her strong opposition to mining activities in the country. Hence, once appointed as Environment Secretary mining companies saw their stocks plunge in value. Among her earliest declarations as Secretary state her opposition to open-pit mining and to reform the 1995 Mining Act which she says is “skewed towards the mining company.“
It came as no surprise then that among the CA members who voted against Secretary Lopez’s appointment were those with special interests.
The most obvious being Congressman Ronaldo Zamora from the lone district of San Juan. His older brother is Manual Zamora, the founder of Nickel Asia Mining Corporation, which saw one of its mines shut down in February by Secretary Lopez’s office. Cong. Zamora was among the harshest inquisitors of Sec. Lopez during her confirmation hearing, one heated exchange even resulted in the former Environment Secretary telling the congressman that his “brother killed a mountain.“
It was also reported a day before the CA took a vote, that several of its members had met with representatives from Citinickel Corporation. The company had already filed charges against Secretary Lopez after their mine was among those shut down in February. The CA members who were included in this revelation included Zamora, Cong. Josephine Sato of Occidental Mindoro and Isabela congressman Rodito Albano – all three voted for the ouster of the Secretary.
This same sentiment was shared by President Duterte himself, the first statement he made in relation to Sec. Lopez’s rejection was that “lobby money talks“. It can be remembered that the President re-appointed Lopez three times, after she was repeatedly by-passed by the CA in previous confirmation hearings.
A CA rejection means that the President can no longer re-appoint Sec. Lopez, unfortunately. Her fate is similar to that of former Foreign Affairs secretary Perfecto Yasay, who was rejected for perjury. In Gina’s case however, she was rejected because money influences politics and she bumped heads with too many individuals with a lot of it.
The country will deeply miss her.