I recall Regina “Gina” Lopez, heiress of the Lopez broadcast-real estate-power generation fortune, being asked some years back to explain how she could wear expensive jewelry and claim to be an anti-mining advocate. Lopez’s reply was something to the effect that her jewelry came from New York, not from any mine in the Philippines.
President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, in a one-minute video message, has declared that Lopez, the anti-mining crusader, is his choice as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. In certain respects, the appointment is as strange to me as the nomination of Jose David Lapuz, a professor at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, as chairman of the Commission on Higher Education.
Lapuz has been the subject of much online ridicule not only because there is still a CHED chairman currently serving a fixed term that will end two years from now, but also because some former students of his at UST have been questioning his credentials, capabilities and even his sanity. And apparently, Lapuz’s only claim to fame is that he used to be Duterte’s college instructor at the Lyceum of the Philippines in the sixties.
Naming Lopez to DENR, however, is not just fodder for online humorists. On her appointment could hinge the fate of an entire industry that, as far as I can recall, has been identified by Duterte as an important engine of the national economy, if properly regulated.
During a forum for businessmen last February, then-candidate Duterte came out strongly in favor of responsible mining, which he said would be allowed to continue as long as the environment was sufficiently protected. “[As for] mining, the best that I can see now is the Australian standard: just follow the Australian standard, take care of the environment,” Duterte told the Wallace Business Forum back then.
But the trouble with appointing Lopez to DENR, the government agency that regulates the mining industry, is that she is against all mining, responsible or not. Yes, despite her taste for precious-metal jewelry that could actually have been mined here, regardless of where she bought it.
“Mining as an economic path in a magnificent ‘Last Frontier’ is based on a paradigm of economic growth that is myopic and archaic,” Lopez said in an open letter published in 2011. “[It] should be thrown in the dustbin.”
To her credit, Lopez has declared that while she is honored by Duterte’s appointment, she has not yet accepted it. I believe, of course, that she should turn it down, if she is true to herself.
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During the Aquino administration, the mining industry was mostly in limbo because the government—typically—could not decide one way or the other. While there was a Mining Law whose implementing rules had already been approved and upheld by the Supreme Court, an executive order issued by the Noynoying One prevented the expansion of an industry that was already providing good work for tens of thousands and pumping billions in taxes to government coffers annually.
And, of course, the industry has its bad eggs, particularly those who raped the environment they were already extracting metals from, like that big-time businessman whose operation was dumping waste indiscriminately into the sea in Agusan and so many local officials who made “small-scale mining” synonymous with “big-time destruction” all over the country. But mining also has its conscientious players, who take care not only of local communities but also of the environment.
It is important that Duterte said he wanted to follow the Australian model for responsible mining. Like the US and Canada, Australia has very stringent laws on mining, which those three countries have allowed for many decades and allow to this very day.
The Philippines, according to many international experts, also has very comprehensive and tough laws on mining, which can ensure the proper, safe and environment-friendly operation of local mines if they are implemented properly. What the local mining industry needs, therefore, is a good regulator and implementor of applicable laws, not an anti-mining activist like Gina Lopez.
I don’t know how Lopez was chosen to head up DENR, which was originally among the four Cabinet posts that Duterte said he would give to the leftists. What I do know is that the position was first offered to left-leaning Rep. Carlos Zarate, who turned it down.
But I take heart in the fact that Duterte has also been known to change his mind when he sees that he has made a mistake. This is why Duterte moved his spokesman-nominee, the combative and abrasive Salvador Panelo, to the less controversial position of presidential chief legal counsel.
Of course, he still hasn’t revoked the appointment of Las Piñas Rep. Mark Villar as public works secretary, a nomination that has been described by many as akin to letting the fox guard the hen house. But Lopez’s appointment is even worse than Villar’s, in a sense; I think she intends to burn down not only the hen house, but the whole farm, as well.
There is always room for someone like Gina Lopez, anti-mining advocate, in society. But I don’t think she deserves the job of regulating an industry that she has long vowed to destroy.