MANILA, Philippines – Occidental Mindoro Representative Josephine Ramirez-Sato on Tuesday, May 2, grilled Environment Secretary Gina Lopez on her order requiring suspended mining companies to give P2 million for every hectare of farmland affected by their activities.
"I do not question the reason for that, but I question the basis for your asking or requiring the mining corporations to pay P2 million or to deposit in a trust fund P2 million. Can you please educate me or inform me what was the basis of your imposing this requirement?" Sato said during Lopez's confirmation hearing before the Commission on Appointments (CA) on Tuesday.
Lopez first clarified that the money will go to mining companies' social development and management programs, and not to a trust fund as earlier indicated in a January 30 memorandum.
She added that it was a directive given only to concerned mining companies that have stockpiles.
"The basis for that imposition was the prerogative of the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) secretary as written in the Mining Act to make sure that the resources of the country are utilized in a way that doesn't disadvantage our people," Lopez answered.
She said she was only following "the spirit of the law" since farmlands were disadvantaged out of the mining companies' rehabilitation zone.
But Sato noted that it is different "when you impose some financial obligation on a company or an individual."
"It has to have a specific authority from the law. It is not just a prerogative….I will be remiss in my duty as a legislator if I will not question this. Tell me if there is a legal basis, then I will stop my question," the lawmaker added.
Lopez then asked Sato if the law is not enough basis for the order.
"Because from my point of view, the fact that we have to take care of farmers was enough reason for me," she added.
Sato shot back: "That's not enough. I do not question the motivation; I even admire you for that. It's just that we are a nation of laws and not of men."
"To assure maging maganda takbo ng ating pamahalaan, laging ang aksyon ng lahat ng mambabatas, lahat ng tao sa gobyerno ay naaayon sa batas (To ensure that our government will be run well, lawmakers and government officials always act according to the law)," she added.
The lawmaker said if there really was no legal basis for the order, Congress can pass a law "to support you in in this."
She asked Lopez about what will happen to the order since it is "not supported by existing laws."
"At this point, it's almost moot and academic because Secretary Medialdea issued a stay of execution, so we really can't do anything. Ma'am, maybe you can advise us how we can help the farmers kasi kawawa talaga sila (because they're really disadvantaged)," Lopez answered.
Lopez had already called out Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea in April for "counteracting" her order on the mine stockpile.
Medialdea defended the Office of the President's move which, he said, was meant to prevent any damage caused by mine stockpiles.
The CA committee on environment and natural resources terminated the confirmation hearing on Tuesday. Committee members 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.