THE powerful Commission on Appointments on Wednesday rejected the ad-interim appointment of environmentalist Regina Paz “Gina” Lopez as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), putting a stop to her crackdown on mining companies.
Lopez failed to get the nod of the 24-member appointments body after three confirmation hearings conducted by its committee on the environment and natural resources, where she was grilled on her policies and competence to lead the DENR.
The decision on whether to confirm or reject her appointment was done through secret balloting during an executive session that was attended by all members of the appointments body, composed of 12 senators and 12 representatives.
Only eight members voted to confirm Lopez while 16 voted to reject her appointment.
Senator Emmanuel Pacquiao, chairman of the environment committee, presented the recommendation of the panel before a plenary session.
“With sadness in my heart, this committee, through this plenary, is terminating its deliberation on Gina Lopez’s appointment, not in the way I personally wanted to, but by the decision of the majority which I am sorry [for], but we must all respect,” said the boxer-turned-legislator.
Pacquiao described the deliberation on the ad-interim appointment of Lopez as the longest and most dramatic in the appointment body’s history, witnessed by Filipinos on live television and social media.
“To my mind, this is not only Gina’s fight for the environment but a fight between Filipino versus Filipinos who both need the environment – one group to use it and the other to preserve it,” he added.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd and Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito took the floor and revealed that they had voted to confirm Lopez, a scion of the Lopez business clan whose interests range from infrastructure to broadcasting.
“Mr. President, Gina Lopez should be recognized because it took a lady secretary to have the guts to go against the brazen violations of big-time miners,” Ejercito said.
Senator Francis Pangilinan also took the floor on behalf of the erstwhile ruling Liberal Party contingent in the Senate that backed Lopez.
“We would like to place on record that we likewise voted for the confirmation of Secetary Gina Lopez, because we believe in her qualification and her abilities to lead the DENR,” he said.
“This feat is admirable, and I share her conviction that no amount of income contributions to the country’s GDP (gross domestic product) can compensate for the environmental destruction and negative impacts of mining operations,” he added.
Lopez on February ordered the closure of 23 mines and suspended the operations of five others, a move that was rejected by the mining lobby and some lawmakers.
Lopez was the second appointee of President Rodrigo Duterte rejected by the Commission on Appointments, after Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr., who failed to get the body’s nod because of questions on his citizenship.
Senate President and Commission on Appointments Chairman Aquilino Pimentel 3rd said Lopez ceased to be DENR chief the moment he banged the gavel.
“This is the constitutional body that determines fitness to be secretary of a certain department,” he said.
Mining stocks up
With the Philippines being the world’s biggest supplier of nickel ore and a major source of copper, Lopez’s campaign had impacted global prices.
Global nickel and copper prices fell by just over 2 percent each in London trade on Wednesday, with financial services company Commerzbank saying concerns in the market about prolonged supply cuts in the Philippines had been allayed.
The Chamber of Mines released a statement on Wednesday thanking the commission for its quick decision, which it said was “the beginning of a new chapter for the mining industry.”
At the Philippine Stock Exchange, the mining and oil index rose 2.73 percent. Apex Mining, Benguet Corp., Lepanto Mining, and Manila Mining were among the day’s biggest gainers in the local bourse.
Environment groups expressed outrage, arguing Lopez’s rejection showed Duterte had misled with his pledges to lead a government for ordinary Filipinos rather than the elite.
“The rejection demonstrates the continued control of powerful destructive industries such as mining in the country’s legislative houses, and the reform promised to Filipinos is a sham,” the Green Thumb coalition, grouping dozens of environment groups, said in a statement.
Miners had run a high-profile campaign to have the Commission on Appointments reject Lopez, arguing she was jeopardizing the lives of 1.2 million people who were dependent on the industry.
It had strong supporters in the congressional commission, with its vice chairman, Ronaldo Zamora, a former director of Nickel Asia, the country’s second most valuable mining company.
Zamora’s older brother, Manuel, is the current Nickel Asia chairman. Like all mining stocks, Nickel Asia’s share price rose on Wednesday after Lopez’s sacking.
Another opponent of Lopez was Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd, a former mining executive whose family has big investments in the industry.
Dominguez took the unprecedented action of testifying against a fellow Cabinet member when he told the commission hearings that Lopez should be rejected.