Duterte pleads to CA: Allow Gina Lopez to present her case

MANILA, Philippines – On the eve of the confirmation hearing of Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, President Rodrigo Duterte appealed to the powerful Commission on Appointments (CA) to give her a chance.

"You just cannot ignore also the cries of Gina Lopez....You should also allow Gina to present her case and I would like to ask Congress to – diyan sa (there in the) Commission on Appointments, tingnan 'nyo lang nang mabuti (just look at it well) and she will show you how devastated the environment is," Duterte said during a Department of Agriculture event in Malacañang on Tuesday, March 7.

When the CA bypassed Lopez's appointment late last year, Duterte reappointed her and publicly declared  his support for her policies, including her suspension of mining operations.

In his Tuesday speech, Duterte pointed out Lopez's work ethic and passion.

"If you listen to Gina present her case, this is not a brief for her, but you have to concede also to the girl. She really does her work and she has pointed out so many factors that would eventually affect the environment of Mindanao," said the President.

Duterte bared his own thought process when it comes to the debate on mining.

While he recognizes the potential of mining to boost the economy and earn foreign currency for the country, he appeared to find more weight in Lopez's argument that mining is not pro-poor and destroys the environment.

He voiced particular concern about how open-pit mining makes areas prone to landslides and floods.

'Happy compromise'

Duterte eventually concluded his analysis by voicing his hopes for a "happy compromise" between miners and advocates like Lopez.

"Now, I want my country to earn so I'm not saying I'm against mining per se, that I'm against big mining – far from that actually. I know that we need the dollars but somehow we have to look at the other way and a different perspective. She has a good case, Gina, and hopefully we can strike a happy compromise there but more on the side of protecting the public interest," he said.

The President admitted he has gotten calls from some "classmates" about Lopez.

"Maraming tumatawag sa akin mga classmate ko (Many classmates have been calling me). They wanted me to call Gina. [I] cannot do that. For the life of me, I have never called any Cabinet member for any reason at all. I confront them in the Cabinet meetings but not 'yung tawag-tawag (no calls)," he said.

Mining companies have banded together to oppose Lopez's appointment. There are at least 27 oppositions filed against the confirmation of the environment chief, whose appointment is also opposed by some CA members. (READ: Opposition to Lopez's confirmation gives Pacquiao 'headache

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Duterte's former classmate and childhood friend, has also criticized Lopez's decision to shut down and suspend some mining operations without "due process."

Dominguez, in a press conference, indirectly reminder her that "being secretary is not like being a crusader," in reference to her tendency to side with environmentalists rather than with miners.

Aside from Lopez, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr faces the CA on Wednesday. Duterte, however, made no similar appeal for him. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.