By Mario B. Casayuran
The fate of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Regina Paz “Gina” La’o Lopez at the bicameral Commission on Appointments (CA) continues to hang in the balance as the powerful body deferred action on her ad interim appointment yesterday.
Instead, the CA Committee on Environment, chaired by boxing champ Sen. Emmanuel Pacquiao, decided to meet Tuesday morning at the Senate to review and analyze the testimonies of oppositors who want the CA to reject Lopez’s appointment, prolonging the environment advocate’s agony.
The CA committee members may decide to recommend the confirmation of Lopez’s appointment when the CA meets in plenary session on March 15.
If not, Lopez is deemed bypassed when the Senate and the House of Representatives go into a six-week recess starting March 18.
The meeting of committee members was decided by Pacquiao after terminating his more than eight hours of public hearing where 21 oppositors were given the chance to air their views against Lopez’s confirmation as DENR chief.
Lopez conceded that the Philippines has become a nation divided following her controversial decision to recommend the closure of 73 mining firms which are generally owned by foreigners.
When pressed by CA members, particularly Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson, Sen. Vicente Sotto III and Reps. Joel Mayo Almario, Josephine Ramirez Sato, and Julieta Cortuna, Lopez assured the CA that not one mining company has been physically closed.
“That is up to the President,” she said.
President Duterte had earlier ordered the setting aside of P50 million for the review of Lopez’s closure order since “we get something like P70 billion a year out of the mining operations in the entire Philippines.”
Pacquiao said the mining companies ordered closed by DENR can still appeal to the President.
San Juan Rep. Ronaldo B. Zamora, CA vice chairman, said the Pacquiao committee will determine Tuesday whether Lopez is qualified and has track record or the experience to be at the helm of the DENR.
“It is all about Gina,” he added.
Zamora also said a conflict of interest issue that might be raised against him because his brother is a shareholder of Nickel Asia is non-issue.
He stressed that he has no economic or financial dependence from his brother out of the mining operations.
Zamora also doubted the assurances of Lopez to indigenous peoples (IPs) at mining sites that she would help them gain employment during the rehabilitation phase of the closed mining sites.
He doubted where Lopez can changed the mining sites into a green economy as IPs now depend on mining companies for their employment and other related services that mining companies extend.
Lopez stressed that she advocates social justice as an important criterion in closing the mines and that all her actions are backed up by the Philippine Constitution and seven laws on environment.
She also assured senators and congressmen that she would seek help from the Duterte Cabinet to help her make the country environmentally acceptable and to help the IPs.
Sen. Loren Legarda, chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee, vowed to seek government funds for the IPs and others affected by Lopez’s closure orders.
University of the Philippines geology students questioned the scientific basis used by Lopez in closing down the mining operations.
One such issue was that Lopez did not want mining firms to operate in watershed areas but all the regions throughout the country have watersheds “and Metro Manila is seated over a watershed area.”
“Should Metro Manila vacate the place because it is seated over watershed area?” the UP student asked.