President Duterte’s nomination of controversial Gina Lopez as secretary of environment and natural resources has failed to fly with lawmakers on the Commission on Appointments.
Voting 16-8 through secret balloting, the commission’s committee on environment and natural resources headed by Sen. Manny Pacquiao rejected Lopez’s nomination on Wednesday.
Pacquiao, whose committee held hearings to determine Lopez’s qualifications, announced the outcome of the vote at a session of the full commission “with sadness in my heart.”
A supporter of Lopez, Pacquiao said the deliberations were “perhaps the longest, [most] dramatic and most watched by all Filipinos from all walks of life.”
Pacquiao did not identify the committee members who voted to reject Lopez.
For and against
Aside from Pacquiao, seven other senators were known supporters of Lopez—Vicente Sotto III, Loren Legarda, JV Ejercito, Francis Pangilinan, Franklin Drilon, Ralph Recto and Bam Aquino.
That means the 16 other members of the panel voted against Lopez—Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Panfilo Lacson, Gregorio Honasan and Juan Miguel Zubiri and Representatives Benhur Saalimbangon, Joel Almario, Antonio Floirendo Jr., Wes Gatchalian, Roy Loyola, Rosenda Ann Ocampo, Josephine Sato, Ronaldo Zamora, Rodolfo Albano III, Abraham Tolentino, Julieta Cortuna and Jerry Treñas.
Zamora told reporters later that all 24 members participated in the secret balloting and that there was no debate during the deliberations, just a discussion of procedures.
“It is not enough that you have passion for the job. It is not enough that you have certain convictions. It’s important, too, that you have every minimum of qualifications for the job,” he said.
“Many of us were uncertain that she had that. In the end, [we decided that] something as important as this (the environment job) should not be left in untested hands,” he said.
The lawmakers’ decision forced Lopez out of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), ending a 10-month tenure during which she nearly shut the mining industry of the Philippines, the world’s biggest exporter of nickel.
Lopez became the second nominee of Mr. Duterte to be rejected by Congress. In March, the lawmakers rejected the nomination of Perfecto Yasay Jr. as foreign secretary because of his uncertain citizenship.
No replacement yet
Malacañang said it respected the lawmakers’ decision, but paid tribute to Lopez’s accomplishments during her brief tenure at the DENR.
“She has contributed a lot of meaningful insights into the environment and the Philippine environmental situation, and it is with deep concern that the [Commission on Appointments] has seen fit to reject her appointment,” presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella told reporters.
“On the other hand, it is a democratic process and we respect their decision and so we would just like at this stage to leave it at that,” he added.
Abella said no one had been chosen yet to replace Lopez.
Lawyer Mark Kristopher Tolentino, whom Mr. Duterte’s party Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan had endorsed for the environment post, may be “one name among many” that may be considered in the search for a replacement for Lopez, he said.
In a talk with reporters, Lopez suggested that President Duterte take her place at the DENR.
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP), which vigorously opposed Lopez’s nomination, thanked the lawmakers for their decision.
“[We are] thankful to the commission for the speedy resolution of Ms. Lopez’s nomination,” COMP vice president Ronald Recidoro said in a statement.
“This is not the end, but rather the beginning of a new chapter for the mining industry,” Recidoro said. “We will have to work doubly hard to uplift the industry.”
Recidoro said the chamber would seek the reversal of Lopez’s controversial orders.
“We feel that those have no legal foundation,” he said. “There were no proper consultations held. And more important, it’s really out to kill the mining industry.”
Mining shares rebound
Mining shares sizzled on the stock market on Wednesday after lawmakers’ decision became known.
Bucking the downturn on the stock market, the mining/oil index gained 2.73 percent to close at 12,772.81.
It was the only subindex that stayed afloat on Wednesday while the local stock barometer slipped by 0.27 percent.
The biggest gainers in the sector were Apex Mining, Benguet Corp. A and B shares and Oriental Peninsula Resources, which surged by 18.24 percent, 15 percent and 13.19 percent, respectively.
Bright Kindle Resources, a holding company that owns 32.94 percent of nickel miner Marcventures Holdings Inc., rose by 12 percent while Marcventures itself gained 4.06 percent.
Lepanto Consolidated edged higher by 8.42 percent while affiliate Manila Mining rose by 8.33 percent.
A committed environmentalist, Lopez was selected by Mr. Duterte because of her record as an activist dedicated to the poor, which included cleaning up the Pasig river that flows through the heart of Manila, reforestation work and safeguarding areas of biodiversity.
But Lopez, locking horns with the mining industry and other members of Mr. Duterte’s Cabinet, ordered the closure of 23 mines located in watersheds, suspension of five others and the cancellation of 75 mining contracts.
Last week, Lopez also banned open-pit mining.
‘I believe I can fly’
In a news conference after the appointments commission’s session, Lopez thanked the lawmakers “who voted according to their conscience.”
“It’s unfortunate that business interests have in fact run the day because that’s really what it is,” she said.
“It is the constitutional right of every Filipino to a clean and healthy environment. It is our right in the Constitution, and that is premier above all, it is the duty of [the] government to grant our people this right, and when people make choices, influence based on interest, transgressing the rights of every Filipino to what God has given them, it is wrong,” she said.
Lopez closed the news conference by singing some lines from her favorite song, “I Believe I Can Fly,” with some of her staff members. —WITH REPORTS FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA, RONNEL W. DOMINGO, JAYMEE T. GAMIL AND REUTERS
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