Solon to DENR’s Gina Lopez: Stick to law’s definition of watershed

A member of the Commission on Appointments (CA) on Thursday reminded Environment Secretary Gina Lopez that only the law can define what a watershed is.

This was after Lopez stressed before the appointments body that the “need to include other areas [as a watershed] is appropriate,” apart from the 143 critical watershed areas that had been defined 20 years ago under Presidential Decree No. 705.

A presidential decree is a rule of law that serves to arrogate unto the chief executive or head of state the lawmaking powers of Congress.

Occidental Mindoro Rep. Josephine Sato, a member of the bicameral body,  reminded Lopez that only Congress has the power to craft laws, including those that specify what constitutes a watershed.

“You do not have any right or authority to make your own law, your policy. You are only confined within the provisions of the law so you cannot say watershed is a watershed because there is a definition of a proclaimed watershed and you’re contained there,” Sato told Lopez.

Lopez faced the CA committee on environment and natural resources for the second time on Thursday, with more than 20 oppositors against her nomination as Environment Secretary.

Sato said Lopez should go through the “proper procedure” if she wants to amend the law defining watersheds.

During her confirmation hearing, Lopez cited PD 705 which defines a watershed as “a land area drained by a stream or fixed body of water and its tributaries having a common outlet for surface run-off.”

A critical watershed, meanwhile, is defined as “a drainage area of a river system supporting existing and proposed hydro-electric power and irrigation works needing immediate rehabilitation.”

“Whatever I did was not arbitrary. It’s backed up by law,” Lopez said.

Last month, Lopez ordered to close 23 mining operations operating in watersheds and suspended five others following a months-long audit.

Ronald Recidoro, vice president for legal and policy of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, also disputed Lopez’s statements, saying the Mining Act actually allows mining in watersheds.

Recidoro said Section 19 prohibits mining only in “proclaimed watershed forest reserves (PWFRs).”

“The law does not leave to her discretion what will be PWFRs. The law reserves that discretion,” Recidoro said. — MDM, GMA News


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