PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Palawan—A network of 34 environmental nongovernment organizations has withdrawn its support for the confirmation of Regina Lopez as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, an official of the group said Sunday.
Lawyer Robert Chan, executive director of the Palawan NGO Network Inc., said they decided to withdraw their support for Lopez after she entered into an agreement with the provincial government to co-manage certain areas in Palawan.
The co-management agreement covers around 731,710 hectares of forest lands, protected areas, mangrove forest and coastal areas, and around 9,800 square-kilometers of coral reefs, Chan said in a press statement.
PNNI and other Palawan-based NGOs criticized the agreement as “lacking scientific basis and public consultation.” They and other non-profit groups also said the agreement “deprived civil society organizations of proper representation in its technical working group.”
“Secretary Lopez’s allies sought our endorsement for her confirmation but we could not give it because of this agreement,” Chan said in Filipino.
“Yung mga kaalyado ni Secretary Gina ay kumuha ng endorsement ng Palawan NGO Network Inc.
Chan said his organization sent a letter to Lopez on Feb. 27 urging her to revoke the agreement.
Most of the group’s members agreed to withdraw their support for Lopez in a recently held general assembly.
Chan said his organization has sent a letter to Lopez last Feb. 27 urging her to revoke her decision on the MoA. Majority of the group’s members have agreed to withdraw their support to Lopez in a recently-held board and general assembly meeting of its members.
“People only see Lopez as an anti-mining crusader, when in fact, that is only one of the many tasks of a DENR chief. There are other sectors of the environment to be considered, such as forestry and fishery, as well as climate change,” he said.
“What we see is she’s good in handling mining issues, but it’s the DENR, it’s not just a Department of Mining,” he added.
The co-management agreement is opposed by 340 indigenous people in Brooke’s Point, who say the project will intrude on their ancestral domain.
Critics also question the program’s proposal to plant bamboo and napier grass as livestock feed as this would affect the area’s biodiversity.
Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers on Sunday scored Lopez for failing to effectively address the opposing arguments against her confirmation and said she would be bypassed—her third time.
“She till has a lot of learning to do… She had a hard time answering the issues [raised by] the [those who oppose her],” Barbers said.
Earlier, Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III and A-Teacher Rep. Juliet Cortuna, both CA members, said Lopez may need a reappointment from President Rodrigo Duterte because she is deemed to be bypassed.
Under the CA’s new “three-strike” rule approved last week, the body must decide on an appointee’s fitness for the post if he or she has been bypassed thrice.
Over the weekend, the Manila Mining Corp. chided Lopez for making false statements about their operations.
“While under oath, Lopez showed pictures of open pits of Manila Mining Corp. [MMC] in Placer, Surigao del Norte which she said she took herself,” MMC said in a statement.
It then quoted Lopez as stating: “You know the price of gold went down so they suspended it but they haven’t been taking care of it and they don’t even have the funds there to rehab it and my staff tells me that it is not acidic but it’s full of copper. Nevertheless, it’s a danger to the area.”
The company said Lopez made a defamatory statement at a public forum in Butuan City where she described the water in its pits as acid, even though tests by the Environmental Management Bureau showed that it and the sea water adjoining the mine site had pH levels within the DENR standards.
“It is not true that MMC has not been taking care of its open pits. We properly maintain our facilities on site to ensure that they do not harm the environment. Our compliance with environmental regulations are confirmed by the quarterly monitoring made by the duly-constituted Multi-partite Monitoring Team [MMT], the last of which was in November 2016.”
The company also said her claim that MMC had no fund for the pit’s rehabilitation was false.
“MMC has had mine rehabilitation funds since 1998 on deposit with a government bank. Those accounts are subject to quarterly monitoring by the MMT and found sufficient and in compliance with MMC’s MGB-approved Care and Maintenance Program. The last such monitoring was made on March 2-3, 2017,” the company said.
“The open pits referred to by Lopez contain ore and are programmed for mining prior to rehabilitation. Adjacent areas, as the pictures indicate, are heavily forested and rehabilitated,” the company said. With Rio N. Araja