MANILA, Philippines – "We want to confirm you Ma'am, but we want to make sure we will not have an arbitrary DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources)."
This was what Senator Alan Peter Cayetano told Environment Secretary Gina Lopez on Tuesday, May 2, at the resumption of her confirmation hearing before the Commission on Appointments (CA).
His questions were about the environment secretary's standards when it comes to mining, logging, and the tourism industry.
"Is there some kind of mining that's okay, or are all mining inherently evil?" Cayetano asked Lopez.
He also asked the same question on logging, and Lopez answered no to both questions.
"It seems under your administration, you focused on [the] negative, and for people to stay away from these industries," Cayetano said.
"'Di ko mine-menos lahat ng ginawa mo for environment, but I'm showing the different hats you wear [as secretary] (I'm not dismissing everything you've done for the environment, but I'm showing the different hats you wear as secretary)," he added.
He also zeroed in on the tourism industry, and how some beach resorts also contribute to the destruction of the environment.
"What I'm saying is, basta may tao, may environmental damage. Hindi lahat ng damage dahil sa mining, logging, tourism (What I'm saying is, where there are humans, there is environmental damage. Not all damage is due to mining, logging, and tourism)," he noted.
The senator then pointed out that in some areas where there is mining and logging, "the people have good schools, good jobs, health care."
Lopez retorted, "When they [companies] leave, then what?"
Cayetano also told Lopez that there are people saying the mining audit, which became the basis for the order to close and suspend some mining operations, "wasn't done with a standard that was know to all."
"It was a moving target," he added.
In February, Lopez ordered the closure or suspension of 28 mining operations in the country. Her decision will be the "starting point" of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council review of all existing mining operations in the country.
In response to Cayetano, Lopez said: "Sir, you know, you go on field, and you see people who don't have food to eat anymore, you see a 27-kilometer river dead….I can't talk about intellectual things like that. Our people are suffering, and we have a legal, a constitutional duty to our people to not allow them to suffer like this."
But Cayetano told her, "Ma'am, let's not talk about misery because all the people here, especially the congressmen, deal with the misery of our people every day."
"Ang tanong natin, standards (Our question is on standards)," he added.
Lopez insisted that the mining companies affected by her closure and suspension orders committed violations, and that even her audit teams agreed with this.
"Will we have a DENR that will base its action, yes, for love of country, yes, on the Constitution, but also on law and the technical specifications provided? Or will we have an arbitrary DENR na kung ano ang feeling 'nyo that day, 'yun 'yung batas. Kung iba feeling 'nyo the next day, iba na naman."
(Or will we have an arbitrary DENR that will follow the law based on your feelings one day, and follow another if your feelings change the next day?)
"If you have a problem with the law, you go to Congress and you ask us to amend the law," he advised the environment secretary.
Lopez assured the CA that she is a "law-abiding citizen."
"I will never ever do anything in DENR which is against the law. My temperament is just passionate, but it doesn't mean that I'm gonna break the law," she said.
The CA committee on environment and natural resources terminated the confirmation hearing on Tuesday.
In an interview with reporters after the hearing, Cayetano said he was "really bothered" by Lopez's "arbitrariness."
"But Senator Loren [Legarda] said she'll explain some of that, so papakinggan ko rin siya (so I will listen to her too)," he added.
Members of the CA committee will meet again on Wednesday morning, May 3, to deliberate on Lopez's appointment. – Rappler.com
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.