• Gina Lopez at the DENR: Conflicts, questions, answers

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    I DO not doubt that Gina Lopez has her heart in the right place.

    But this is not all that we need in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). This position is not merely about taking a strong stand against mining—and doing eco-tourism projects to prove that there are other ways of earning from the environment. It’s not merely about promising to clean the Pasig River—no matter the settlements that live off it. It’s not just about putting out money for the La Mesa Watershed Reservation.

    If this is all we’re looking at, then Lopez does not qualify for this job. Her family’s business interests just make things worse.

    Conflicts of interest
    According to its website, the Lopez Group of Companies has interests in broadcasting, cable TV, power generation and distribution, telecommunications, banking, and property development. Its hands are dipped in nation’s basic needs and services such as electricity and water, oil and manufacturing, all of which impinge upon and impact the environment.

    It is clear Lopez cannot even do a Mark Villar, he who promised that the Villar Group would not engage in any government project while he is Public Works Secretary. Her family is just too politically embroiled she would have a hard time proving that her family will not gain from her position in the Duterte Cabinet.

    As chairperson of the ABS-CBN Foundation, Inc. (AFI), Lopez herself is in fact complicit in the environmental impacts of her family’s businesses.

    We might think there are no impacts of course. You forget that with a cultural empire like ABS-CBN, even information can be controlled in favor of one of the most powerful oligarchies in the country.

    In the news: cases
    In 2013, Lopez herself got embroiled in two controversies for her “environmental” work.

    A Commission on Audit Report (COA) for the years 2004 to 2009 revealed that the AFI had unilaterally decided to get another 15 percent over its 30 percent share in the La Mesa Eco-Park’s net income. The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) states: 40 percent to MWSS, 30 percent to the Quezon City government, and 30 percent to the AFI (Business World, 17 Nov 2014).

    Another COA report alleged that instead of “removing rubbish,” the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC), headed by Lopez, had “created more junk … bungling its P17.7-million cleanup of Metro Manila’s biggest waterway. COA said that millions of pesos worth of recycling equipment had been rendered junk because the PRRC had only one working materials recovery facility (MRF) out of the 10 recycling centers it committed to build over the last four years (Inquirer.net, 3 July 2013).

    In 2010, the residents of Bangkal, in Makati, were put at risk by a leak in one of the Lopezes’ pipelines. “The Supreme Court issued a Writ of Kalikasan and temporary environmental protection order (TEPO) [ordering]FPIC to “cease and desist from operating the pipeline” (Philstar.com, 20 June 2010).

    In 2001, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) reported that the newly-built Powerplant Mall at the Lopezes’ Rockwell development buried a “deadly pond of toxic waste that had been produced by the 40-year-old, 130-megawatt thermal power once operated by the Lopez-owned Manila Electric Company.”

    The report alleges: “10 minutes’ drive from this newest playground of the rich is Barangay San Joaquin in Pasig City, … entombed in reinforced concrete underneath a parking area the size of four basketball courts, [there are]4,300 cubic meters of soil and 14 cubic meters of liquids contaminated with cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which had been used for Rockwell’s power plant transformers” (PCIJ website, ©2001).”

    Experts say there is no guarantee that this won’t leak out through the soil and cement at some point.

    Lopez’s ‘straight’ answers
    These cases seem few and far between, but even Lopez would agree that environmental problems have long-term effects.

    For example: in Jan. 2016 the Makati City government declared three barangays still at risk from the Lopez’s 2010 pipeline leak. Dr. Carlo Arcilla, director of the National Institute of Geological Sciences (NIGS) of the University of the Philippines “warned that returning residents of the condominium in Barangay Bangkal remain in danger of contracting lung cancer due to benzene contamination and the polluted groundwater caused by the leakage in 2010, [with]roughly 400,000 liters of leaked petroleum products remain underground, contaminating the soil and water beneath Bangkal” (The Standard, 2 Jan. 2016).

    In 2012, forced to respond to this issue, Lopez said “her family was currently spending hundreds of millions of pesos to fix the unfortunate accident” (Rappler.com, 3 Mar 2012).

    It is this attitude about money that is in Lopez’s responses to the COA reports on the La Mesa Watershed project and the PRRC.

    In 2013, speaking on ABS-CBN, she said about the MWSS allegations on La Mesa funds: “They have everything, I don’t get anything for me. It all goes to their land. We’ve put in P300 million over and above on government property, without asking anything back in return. … The only thing I ask is 15 percent because how can you run an organization, an enterprise if you don’t have admin cost? … 15 percent, that’s like peanuts. We do the auditing. We do the finance. We do the HR. 15 percent admin fee? I mean, that’s really inexpensive” (18 July 2013).

    About bungling the P17.7 million cleanup of the PRRC: “We’ve shifted several key positions in top management. I felt that we could have done a better job. But you know, I’m not even paid for this. Not one peso. I’m the chairperson. I’m not supposed to be running operations but never mind because I’m the chair, I’ll take full responsibility” (18 July 2013).

    This attitude is alarming because for someone who speaks of volunteering for the environment, she sure keeps pointing out how much money she (and her family) have put out, and how she’s doing this for free. Asked about money, the tendency is to be defensive.

    In 2014, after columnist Butch del Castillo asked her questions about the COA report on La Mesa, she replied: “Why don’t you look at the bigger picture—we’re saving a lot of people from poverty and trying to make the air you breathe a lot cleaner, but you insist on nitpicking! Who hired you to ask me these questions? The mining companies?”

    No, not at all the response we expect from anyone involved in environmental work. And certainly not from a government official.

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    16 Comments

    1. Whatever happened to Barangay San Joaquin and the toxic waste buried there? Is the site checked regularly for leaks? Is there an alarming number of residents getting cancer? There should be a follow up investigative report on this or are we just waiting for a major leak to happen before we act again? It’s really disturbing.

    2. Domingo R. Tumambing on

      For sure President Duterte know what he is doing on his moves like this appointment of Gina Lopez.

      First, the President clearly emphasize that all Cabinet Secretaries are temporary appointments and he has no plan for them to be confirmed by the Congress.

      Second, the governance direction is guided by the ” Rule of Law”, hence if we are aware and knowledgeable of the 1935,1973 and 1987 Constitution, the provisions are clear on Mining Laws which will be contrary to the advocacy of Gina Lopez on Total Mining Ban.

      Third,we badly need energy and for those with knowledge on why the approval of government on the now existing power plants whether OIl fed, Coal Fed, the bottom line is for the upliftment of the national economy without compromising the ecological equilibrium and all environmental factors.

      The President can be trusted, and therefore let us all be vigilant and observe what will be done by this new administration on the first 100 days.

      To God all be the glory.

    3. rexmel telan on

      Implementing ENR Laws rules and regulation is not even so easy,,,however,, if Sec. Gina lopez can do and act something good and even all her subordinates to followcwhat is accordin to the law than why not,, may kanya kanya paraan ng paglilingkod,,, if only sec. Lopez only an anti minning,,, then all apliance and other equipments around her is not considered as a product of mining,, irresponsible mining lang dapat,,,palibhasa mga irresposable kasi ay gumagamit din ng pera makalusot lang ,,,

    4. Attention PDU30: To recall Madam Gina Lopez as DENR Secretary for “Conflict of Interest”:She should have to be at the Mines and Geosciences Bureau as head (Directress,where she can be effective).

    5. Jaime Dela Cruz on

      I heard that during the Ondoy Typhoon Calamity, ABS CBN was able to raise around 800 million pesos thru the help of Kris Aquino. The breakdown of the 800 was 400 in cash and 400 in various goods. Only the goods were distributed with the Cash allocated for rehabilitation. I have never heard of any rehabilitation undertaken so what ever happened to the 400 million in cash?

    6. james santos on

      the 2 biggest threats to the environment are irresponsible mining and proliferation of coal fired power plants. sadly, putting in the most competent persons, mostly lawyers and politicians, have resulted in denr approving everything without considering its mandate to truly protect the environment. it was cheaper for business to pay off denr than to comply with all the provisions of the law.

      gina lopez has conflicts of interest and not the best manager but she may be perhaps the person who can get it done. because of her “topak”, she will be a pitbull to the mining companies to force them to make significant investments in settling ponds or other engineering fixes to make sure the surrounding environment is preserved. she will also go after the coal plant sector and perhaps and stop new coal plants from being built and to have operating plants implement fixes that will minimize environmental harm.

    7. Was she appointed by soon to be seated Pres. Duterte? Maybe you have highlighted strong key points why she has several conflicts to pursue her appointed role with full integrity, but I doubt Pres. Duterte will be lenient on his appointed delegate/s. Just give it time.

    8. on collision course itong si manay Gina with Digong’s campaign backers na may mga interests in mining, the Alcataras, Pau Dominguez, Dennis Uy and Villar. Si Gina ano kaya nai-contribute nito? aside sa paninira na ginawa ng ABS-CBN during the campaign. Yong last few days ng campaign, yong mga paid ads na inilabas sa ABS CBN ay talaga namang grabe, kung tipong 1 month before yon ginawa ay baka ikinatalo ni Digong. Nahirapan din po kami pag-defend kay Digong noon sa social media, many friends were unfriended. Marunong talaga ang mga oligarch families, kabilaan ang pusta, kagaya ng mga Cojuanco-Aquino, may naka pusta kay Mar, meron kay Grace at meron kay Binay. Akala ko katausan na ng ma oligarch na kagaya ng mga Lopez, yon pala DENR secretary pa ang buang,haaay naunsa na intawon.

    9. Had the Lopez family won in the bidding of a mining project, do you think Gina will be an anti-mining advocate?

      If it cant be grown it has to be mined. If you are anti-mining, be ready to walk, swim and live back in the caves.

      Almost everything uses product from mining, including your private toy you love to play with Gina. It is battery powered so it uses products from mining.

      • “MAN EMERGED FROM STONE AGE WHEN HE STARTED MINING” If we believe in this then we should support responsible mining.

    10. Well, The Geena may just have to see what a mining operation called Lafayette,once run by The Sonny and Don Manolo has taken to replenish the environment in Bicol where the mine is located. Similarly, The Geena may take also a look at what Don Manolo is doing for the environment at the Philex mining site at Pagcal. Even The Geena’s network’s mouthpiece, The Ted has to eat his words when he saw the attention Philex placed to care for the environment despite the seepage problem the company had to surmount. Indeed, perched high on her ivory tower funded as she is from the masa’s addiction to teleserye and the sing-and-dance culture, she will never have the lateral thinking to see the peripheral and will only mouth what will give her a higher media exposure bereft of depth and incisive views. Who knows, the anti-mining stance may just be a quid pro quo to get faster approvals for permits and clearances for the various environmental degradation projects of the family. Note that this is the very same pattern where Fernando gets the Dept of Agriculture portfolio from Mr. Marcos while the brother, Eugenio continues the unabated export of sugar while leaving the sacadas in their life without pride and dignity. Or maybe, this is the Mr. Dee Gong way of pitting a yellow with another yellow who provided the planes to the mama’s boy during the campaign but who incidentally operates mining sites in Mindanao, not necessarilly in Agusan.

    11. Jerrysal Mangaoang on

      Wow! A perfectly researched article. Yes, I saw how Ms Gina Lopez reacted to questions during mining fora that she’s invited or had initiated. How about her personal background? Adik adik sya nun e. Baka till now. Put her under drug test and maybe all the incoming cabinet members para fair.

    12. wait until she makes her policies to boost their (Lopez group) renewable energy business! and earn windfall profits from the universal charge (FIT rates for renewable energy projects) which is passed on to all consumers of electricity. meralco and electric coops are collecting the monies and then remit to PSALM who then distributes to investors/proponents of renewable power plants for the KWh generated.

      why are the poor consumers subsidizing renewable energy projects (through the universal charge)? these proponents are bleeding consumers dry of their hard-earned monies… and for what? for climate change? the poor consumers and their children will all be dead if and when climate change thingy happens (i doubt if it will be ever).

      • Victoria Segovia on

        The Lopezes do not own Meralco anymore. The visible head there now is Mr. Pangilinan.