Cayetano hits Lopez’ ‘arbitrary’ decision-making at DENR

Jee Y. Geronimo
Cayetano hits Lopez’ ‘arbitrary’ decision-making at DENR
Senator Legarda defends Lopez, saying it's not accurate to say she's arbitrary since it was the DENR that did the mining audit

MANILA, Philippines – “No one is claiming that our secretary-designate is corrupt. No one is saying that she is lax. The issue here is, is she arbitrary?”

This was the question raised by Senator Alan Peter Cayetano during the Commission on Appointments’ (CA) meeting on Tuesday, March 14, where they tackled the ad interim appointment of Environment Secretary Gina Lopez.

“Meaning, does she uphold the standards of the law, or is she inputting into the department her own set of definitions and standards?” Cayetano added.

During the 2-day marathon hearing on March 8 and 9, Lopez answered questions ranging from her definition of watersheds to the standards required of mining operations in the country.

At one point, Occidental Mindoro Representative Josephine Ramirez-Sato told Lopez not to talk about her standards but the standards set by the law.

“Is Secretary Gina just strict? That should be ok, if she’s just being very strict, that’s ok, we’ll throw our 100% support. But if it is unreasonable, arbitrary, and she has her own ideology that will, in effect, doom the mineral resource development industry in the country, that is like allowing her to amend the Mining Act and to do our jobs,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino. 

‘Follow your heart’

Senator Loren Legarda came to the defense of Lopez, who was not present during Tuesday’s meeting. The environment secretary is out of the country for a personal trip.

“To be fair to Secretary Lopez…she did not close all mines of the country, despite the statement of the President on live television yesterday that he is mulling the possibility of a total ban on mining,” Legarda said.

The senator said it is not “totally accurate” to say Lopez acted arbitrarily since the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) conducted the mining audit.

After the controversial audit, Lopez allowed 13 mines to continue operating while ordering the closure of 23 mines and the suspension of 5 others.

Cayetano clarified that he’s not making a conclusion that Lopez is arbitrary, but he was only recalling a conversation with “officials involved in the audit.”

May isang official daw pinagalitan niya: ‘Bakit mo binigyan ng permit?’ Sinabi niya: ‘Ma’am, si Jasareno naman nagbigay ng permit. Halos lahat niyan si Jasareno nagbigay.’ ‘E ikaw bakit ‘di mo binawi ‘yung permit?’ ‘E kasi Ma’am there’s a law, and we have to follow the law.’ Ang sagot daw sa kanya [ni Lopez], ‘Don’t follow the law, follow your heart.'”

(She reportedly scolded one official: Why did you give that company a permit? He said: Ma’am, Jasareno gave the permit. Almost all of those permits were given by Jasareno.’ ‘But why didn’t you take back the permit?’ ‘Because Ma’am there’s a law, and we have to follow the law.’ Lopez reportedly answered back, ‘Don’t follow the law, follow your heart.’)

Cayetano admitted it’s possible those who are “pro-mining” are only saying this to malign the environment secretary.

“But that is why I don’t think we’ll need the [Mining Industry Coordinating Council] if there is complete confidence in the process followed by the DENR, but I think precisely why it’s controversial and we’re here today, there are many questions on how the audit was done,” he explained.

The powerful CA is set to officially bypass Lopez on Wednesday, March 15 – the last day of Congress’ 1st regular session. (READ: Will Duterte reappoint Lopez? ‘It’s possible’)

Senator Manny Pacquiao, chair of the CA committee on environment and natural resources, said they will resume Lopez’s confirmation hearing in May. – Rappler.com

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Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.