DENR employees hope Cimatu will continue Lopez's advocacies

MANILA, Philippines – During his first speech before Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) officials, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu admitted his entry to the department is challenging, given the events that led to his appointment.

"Coming as it does right after the very heated confirmation debates involving Secretary Gina Lopez, a very passionate and ardent advocate of environmental protection – I wish I can approximate only 50% of your passion, Secretary – makes my entry even more challenging," he said on Wednesday, May 10, during his welcome ceremony at the DENR Central Office.

Cimatu, who professes to be a "lover of the environment," has yet to discuss extensively his plans for the DENR.

But if employees had it their way, they want him to continue his predecessor's advocacies.

"Grabe naging destruction sa kalikasan, so full support kami sa ganoon talaga. Hopefully 'yung bagong appointee, sana maipagpatuloy niya adbokasiya na nasimulan," Gerson Taoingan, president of Kalipunan ng mga Kawani sa Kagawaran ng Kalikasan (K4), told Rappler in a phone interview.

(The environmental destruction is too much, so we fully support environmental protection. Hopefully the new appointee will continue the advocacies that were started.)

K4 is the group that represents all DENR employees' unions in the country. During the hearings at the Commission on Appointments, K4 came out with a resolution supporting Lopez's confirmation as environment secretary despite having issues with her "management style."

"'Yun 'yung tingin ko na naging negative na pagtingin kay Secretary Lopez – 'yung nag-appoint na 'di naman eligible," Taoingan explained, referring to Lopez's decision to "give the PENRO (Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer) position to an outsider."

(That, I think, is the cause of the negative reactions to Secretary Lopez – her appointment of those who are not eligible.)

With Cimatu now at the helm of the DENR, Taoingan said they're throwing their support behind him.

"Welcome naman [kahit] sinong mapili. As union, obligado [kaming] suportahan sino man ang i-appoint na secretary. [Sana] maipagpatuloy 'yung nasimulan ni Secretary Lopez," Taoingan added.

(We welcome any appointee. As members of the union, we are obligated to support whoever is appointed as secretary. We hope the appointee will continue what Secretary Lopez has started.)

During her 10 months with the DENR, Lopez made several controversial orders, including the closure and suspension of mining operations, the cancellation of mineral production sharing agreements, and the banning of "prospective" open-pit mines in the country.

Before she left the department, Lopez offered to continue helping Cimatu, but as a member of the private sector. 

'No drastic changes'

For Environment Undersecretary Maria Paz Luna, Lopez's "fearlessness in implementing and enforcing rules and regulations needs to continue."

"With the new Secretary as part of the military establishment, [a] retired general, I'm hoping that there would be structure to that kind of a direction. Anyway, those are directions that government in general should take – transparency, accountability, [and] public participation," Luna, undersecretary for legal affairs, told Rappler.

She added: "It doesn't need to be said that those are the government's functions. And social justice, of course – equitable access to resources, democratized access to government which dispenses access to resources."

Luna, who joined the DENR in July 2016 upon the invitation of Lopez, said her stay at the department will depend "on the new secretary's vision and directions." She said she has yet to "weigh her options."

Another undersecretary, Marlo Mendoza, believes the DENR is already used to "frequent changes in leadership."

"I think the organization is used to that. It's not something new. I think the organization can easily adapt," he said.

The undersecretary for field operations, who had been invited by Lopez as well, also served at the DENR from 2009 to 2012.

He said he's keeping an open mind now that the DENR has a new secretary, but he does not expect drastic changes within the organization.

"You have the people here to work with, and you have an institutional memory. The systems are already in place, although whenever there's a new leader, of course they have different styles, they have different priorities," Mendoza told Rappler.

He added: "Normally any new leader starts with the existing policy framework, although the overarching policy framework that guides us is the Philippine Development Plan (PDP). The PDP, meanwhile, is aligned with the direction of the President."

Mendoza said he is "here to support whoever is there" and that he will stay "if I'm needed." – Rappler.com

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.

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