BAGUIO CITY: President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday cursed at mining firms for environmental destruction as he backed anew Environment Secretary Regina Paz “Gina” Lopez’s stance against illegal mining.
In his speech during the launch of People’s Television Network’s Cordillera Hub, the President said he would rather support Lopez than condone environmental abuse, even at the cost of billions of pesos in tax revenues.
“There is a law. If there is a law about mining, then mining is allowed. The problem is I saw the denuded mountains…the hole you dug has gone too deep, because it’s an open pit. If that’s the case, I have to support Lopez. And I cannot help you,” the President said, addressing himself to miners and speaking in a city whose sources of livelihood include mining.
“Let me just add that all you contribute to the country is about P70 billion in taxes. We can live without it. I would rather follow Gina…We’ll get the P70 billion somewhere else and preserve our environment,” he said.
Duterte issued these statements after Lopez received a barrage of criticisms during her confirmation hearing at the powerful Commission on Appointments.
“If you have something against Gina Lopez, kindly rethink. Look at her passion,” Duterte said, again addressing critics of Lopez.
“Why are people so crazy of mining? There is money. And so you earn how much? Billions. I urged the mining companies, you have earned billions in the bowels of the earth. You better release some of your profits in the previous years and give it to the workers or maybe if Gina loses her cool and gets mad, I will join her and then I will close you permanently,” the President said.
“One thing is very clear, Gina has the passion for it and she wants compliance. She never said close permanently the mining companies. So, you should operate in accordance with the law. It is not Gina who is imposing the rules and regulations, it’s the law and the environment, the need for the moment to improve everything here. I cannot compromise the environment, that is very clear. So I am with Gina because I want to protect the Filipino people,” he added.
“We protect public interest, period, no matter who get hurts and that is what Gina is doing. She is not really concerned on who owns it. She is not interested in their money,” the President said.
Duterte also vowed to extend help to workers affected by the closure of mining companies.
“Be patient, but we are ready. I am ready to extend financial help to those who are displaced because of the temporary closure (of mining firms). I have money for food. It’s from Pagcor. So I have to preserve a little bit of money,” he added.
He said families affected by the closure of mining companies can go to the Department of Social Welfare and Development for their food assistance.
In Malacañang, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said it was possible Duterte would reappoint Lopez anew should she be bypassed by the commission.
“We can’t say that for sure, but it’s possible,” Abella told government-run dzRB radio station.
Lopez faced members of the powerful appointments body last week in a two-day marathon confirmation hearing that saw her answering questions from both lawmakers and individuals opposed to her nomination.
Abella said Duterte respects Lopez’s views.
“As far as I know, as far as we can see, we can tell, the President seems to appreciate…the concern of Ms.
Lopez regarding the environment,” he said.
Lopez in February ordered the closure or suspension of 28 mining operations, and the cancellation of 75 mineral production sharing agreements in watersheds all over the country.
Her decisions irked many in the mining industry, with the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines filing a formal opposition to Lopez before the commission.
The Cabinet official’s order to shut down or suspend mines is also the subject of an ongoing review by the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC), of which Lopez is co-chair.
But she revealed during her confirmation hearing that she gave the President a “memo” in which she “seriously questioned spending P50 million for a function the MICC is not mandated to do.”
Duterte has time and again expressed his support for Lopez, even reappointing her as Environment secretary when the appointments body bypassed her in 2016.
Under new commission rules that will take effect soon, members are mandated to vote – either to reject or confirm – on the appointment of a nominee who has been bypassed thrice.