PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has backtracked from his earlier statement that “lobby money” was behind the rejection of Regina Paz “Gina” Lopez’s appointment as Environment secretary.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte “gave a gloss on” his remarks during Monday’s Cabinet meeting and clarified that he did not necessarily mean that money persuaded the congressional Commission on Appointments (CA) to block Lopez’s nomination.
“We need to correct that. The President said last night that when he said ‘lobby,’ people automatically assumed there was an exchange of money, but he explained that lobby is a legal thing that you can actually exercise in order to persuade one’s particular position,” Abella told reporters in a news conference.
“He (Duterte) was saying last night that it’s not a pejorative accusation, that money was transferred or money was exchanged,” he added.
Some members of the appointments body have protested Duterte’s remark. Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who rejected the appointment, called it a “sweeping assault” against those who voted against Lopez.
“It is a sweeping assault not only on the integrity of the members of the CA who voted for rejection but the CA itself, being an independent constitutional body,” the senator said.
But Abella said Duterte’s remark was not aimed at diminishing the integrity of the commission.
“[H]e just simply explained that] it’s not necessarily financial exchange, but that there was a lobby. In other words, persuasion, legitimate pressure from interested parties. It’s all in general. He didn’t specify [interested parties],” Abella said in a separate interview.
Voting 16-8 through secret balloting, the commission last week rejected the appointment of Lopez as head of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Her 10-month stint was marked by her strong anti-mining stance, particularly her controversial order to close mining firms.
Retired general Roy Cimatu was sworn in Monday to replace Lopez.