ARMED with her so-called “conscience,” Environment Secretary Gina Lopez reinterpreted RA 7942, the law regulating mining in the country, and ordered the closure of 23 mining operations. It was not just mere suspension, where fines and penalties are imposed. It was an absolute closure order which only the President can reverse.
In a single act, Gina Lopez has placed her conscience above science and the law and ruled that there should be no mining operations in any watershed in the country.
She referred to a “functional watershed” as a land category, yet such technical term does not even appear in forestry science.
She premised her edict on a principle that exceeds what is provided by law.
RA 7942 already bars mining operations within watersheds, as indicated in section 19. However, the law specifically defines that such prohibition will only exist within proclaimed watershed forest reserves, and not just any watershed. Not all watersheds in the country are proclaimed as watershed forest reserves.
However, Gina Lopez’s conscience would seem to render her unwilling to take into consideration the letter of the law, or even the technical rudiments of science which are contained in the mining audit which she herself ordered to be conducted. The results of that audit she refused to recognize and even initially refused to disclose to the public for the simple reason that she disagreed with it.
Gina’s conscience must be so powerful that she has the gall to set aside the findings of a team of technical experts from her own agency who, armed with the understanding of the law and of science, made the conclusion that would not have recommended a total closure.
Who died and gave Gina Lopez absolute power to negate science and law?
No one is saying that there are no cases of mining violations in the country, and it is the responsibility of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources to take to task those who err, even to the point of ordering a closure of any mining operation. But as a government of laws, and of sanity, it is the burden of Gina Lopez to be more specific in laying down the basis for any drastic decision that would affect not only the fortunes of mining companies but even the lives of those ordinary people whose daily subsistence rests on employment in the mining industry.
She cannot simply rule on the basis of the principle that no mining operations should exist in any watershed in the country. She should prove that those operations are within proclaimed watersheds, which is what is warranted by the law.
She cites damage to the water table, and to the environment. This is precisely why there is a need for the mining audit, for such will outline the specific violations, presented in concise, empirically verifiable terms. This will provide the needed scientific evidence for her claims. It also ensures that due process has been respected. She who alleges violations should present proof that the closure is warranted.
Gina Lopez should be reminded that she is not a priestess of the oracle who is given the sole power to interpret signs from her gods, and that she alone could communicate to the mortals, based on her so-called “conscience.”
Nobody is begrudging her sticking with her advocacy. In fact, she can engage in eco-terrorism if she wants to, and be like the radical environmentalists she exactly is, and sabotage the operations of mining companies using her creative skills in divining messages from her conscience. She can lead the singing of “I believe I can fly” while facing the mining companies in a stand-off.
But she is now the Secretary of the DENR, an agency that is ruled by law and by science. If she orders a closure of an industry that would affect not only lives but the entire economy, it has to be firmly based on law and on scientifically vetted evidence, and not just on her own biased views on the mining problems of the country.
Her arrogance in refusing to initially disclose the results of the mining audit just because she disagreed with it was contrary to the executive order signed by the President ensuring free access to public information. To her credit, she reversed that decision and eventually agreed to make the results public.
In fact, she is even committing grave abuse of discretion in ordering a closure based on her own interpretation of the Constitution and the law by citing a non-existent technical term and by simply relying on her own biased observations as an anti-mining advocate.
She speaks of green economies that she believes can provide better livelihood for people dependent on mining, but only after two years. She forgot to provide an answer to how they would live tomorrow.
Gina Lopez has to meditate hard. If she wants to remain an emotional advocate ruled by her conscience, then she should leave the DENR to those who can make decisions based on reason, law and science.