“THE bottom line is, I apply what is in the law.” This was one of several quotable quips delivered by EnvironmentSecretary Roy A. Cimatu during his confirmation hearing at the Commission on Appointments last week. Tomy mind, it’s a preview of how the agency will be managed by the former AFP chief of staff.
But we have yet to see the promising work Cimatu’s no-fuss character will produce because in the tradition of the “long-playing” confirmation of some appointees (former Environment Secretary Ramon Paje had to wait four years to get confirmed), the all-powerful Commission of Appointments has deferred the confirmation of the well-respected soldier’s appointment.
The reason given by the CA for the deferment is that there were many absent members who would want to ask Cimatu their own questions. Senate members who were unable to make it to the hearing were Senators Loren Legarda, Franklin Drilon and Sonny Angara, to name a few.
What we have is a good-natured secretary who has shown that he is more than competent to lead the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) but is also more comfortable keeping a low profile. Cimatu seems like a reasonable man whose no-nonsense attitude has gained support from CA members like Senators Ping Lacson, Gringo Honasan and Miguel Zubiri.
Cimatu’s diplomatic answer to the deferred hearing shows that he’s a veteran of the CA, having undergone confirmation several times before as he rose through the ranks of the military.
“I understand there are some members of the commission who would like to clarify certain issues and manifest some concerns regarding our work at the DENR. This is the way democracy works. I welcome the opportunity to clear things,” Cimatu said. But his last statement—“I hope after that sitting, the commission will finally confirm my appointment as DENR Secretary”—shows that despite his low-key approach and easy demeanor, he is eager to do the job.
Though not as gregarious as Gina Lopez, Cimatu has quietly been doing his homework and walking the talk. He has visited mining sites and asked experts to conduct studies and recommendations on how to rehabilitate the blighted areas. He has inspected Boracay, Manila Bay and Laguna Lake and made cleaning these vital water bodies a top priority. He takes President Rodrigo Duterte’s orders seriously and has looked into the study of mining operations so that his decisions regarding the controversial open-pit mining ban will be based on science and the law.
Cimatu also directed that the 140 Community Environment and Natural Resources Offices (CENROs) nationwide have at least one lawyer who will attend to cases that can be quickly resolved at the community level, without needing the intervention of regional or national offices for resolution.
He also suspended the order issued by his predecessor Gina Lopez centralizing the issuance of environmental compliance certificates (ECC). Cimatu said the move is in line with the Duterte administration’s initiative to fast-track the issuance of government permits. While Lopez’s purpose for centralizing the issuance of ECC was to avoid corruption, Cimatu said there are ways to make things more efficient in the department while bearing down hard on corruption. He said technology can help with the ECC being accessed online for transparency and ease of monitoring.
Cimatu is likewise more engaged with DENR employees. When Palawan forester Joselito Eyala was shot by an illegal logger, Cimatu visited the ranger the day he arrived at the Philippine General Hospital in Manila, and honored him with the prestigious Bayani ng Kalikasan award. Cimatu’s interaction with the forester, which the DENR secretary did not turn into a photo op (no media was invited to the hospital visit), was poignant and sincere—a general truly worried and concerned about his green soldier.
His priorities for the agency are clear. Dubbed as the “Program for Environment and Natural Resources for Restoration, Rehabilitation and Development” (PRRD), Cimatu’s plan of action has five priorities: restoration of forest and protected areas; good and effective governance in environmental protection, adaptation to climate change and sustainable use of natural resources; social justice in land titling; conservation of coastal and marine resources.
Under Cimatu’s watch, the Tayo Ang Kalikasan (TAK) movement was established. This initiative is more than branding the DENR and ensuring that its programs are accomplished under the DENR theme of “Tayo ang Kalikasan.” It is envisioned to be a collaborative effort of government and the public toward the responsible development of our natural resources.
The movement mirrors Cimatu’s philosophy that caring for the environment through work and as a way of life should be inculcated in the heart of every Filipino, instead of just merely making them aware of the need to protect and preserve our environment.
The creation of TAK proves that Cimatuis able to balance and highlight multiple DENR issues (not just mining) and is smart enough to use various platforms to push forward his advocacies.
Here are the words of Cimatu that we must hold him to should the CA finally have the resolve (and balls) to give a proven leader, a distinguished and decorated soldier, a civil servant and a real doer, the title of DENR secretary:
“Naniniwala po akong dapat sama-sama po tayo upang ipaglaban ang mga adhikaing ito. Tayo po ang kalikasan. Tayong lahat. Hindi lamang po si Pangulong Duterte o ako o ang mga kawani ng DENR at ang kanilang mga pamilya.
“I intend to listen to all the voices out there and make full use of our powers and resources at the Department to ensure that these various issues and concerns will be properly and judiciously addressed.”
The DENR has been without a “permanent” head for almost a year and a half now. If the numerous and crucial issues concerning the environment are to be addressed and resolved with dispatch, the CA needs to put a captain at the helm of the agency the soonest.