IT’S the end of the road for Regina Paz “Gina” Lopez, whose nomination as Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources was rejected by the Commission on Appointments on Wednesday. The abrupt end to the Cabinet stint of Lopez, an environmental activist and scion of an influential business family, is a loss on several levels.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and for that matter the Duterte administration, have lost the zeal and idealism of a potential leader who offered a much-needed change in mindset from bureaucratic lethargy and business as usual.
Lopez’s controversial crackdown on mining earned her a lot of enemies, but her passion for the environment was almost universally recognized, even by the staunchest of her critics.
Her heart, to use the cliché, was in the right place. Thus, her crusade against destructive mining won the support of militant groups and the Church, something that could not be said of other Cabinet officials and government agencies.
Mining communities could have benefited from the economic transformation envisioned by the area development plans that she had pilot-tested and perfected at the ABS-CBN Foundation, her domain for many years before accepting the DENR post.
It’s a loss to the environment, which would have gotten a respite from the deleterious effects of reckless exploration and destructive techniques such as open-pit mining.
Believe it or not, it’s also a loss to the legitimate mining industry, which would have benefited from higher industry standards and greater social acceptance.
It’s regrettable that well-meaning and no-nonsense activists like Gina Lopez can’t have a place in government, where well-funded lobbies still hold sway. Lopez’s quest for confirmation was an uphill battle given well-entrenched mining interests present right in the halls of Congress.
“Business interests have run the day,” a frustrated Lopez told reporters after her televised debacle.
Precisely because she was an activist, who ran the charitable foundation of a family-owned business conglomerate, Lopez was unfamiliar with the ways of politics.
Unfortunately for her, the DENR is not the same as ABS-CBN Foundation. During her 11-month stint at the department, Lopez managed to upset her very own employees, some members of the press covering her, and practically everyone else who dared to challenge her.
It took fellow Cabinet members like Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to knock some sense into Lopez, and they, too, were unsettled by her apparent disregard for due process.
Yes, some miners may have hurt Mother Nature, but even bad people are entitled to a fair hearing and their day in court.
In the end, Gina Lopez’s downfall was her failure to get people to her side.
Passion, idealism and determination are necessary to bring about change to government, but a leader also has to inspire and bridge divides. The latter are accomplished by sincere dialogue, not one-way sermons.
We wish Gina Lopez well, and hope there’s a second wind for her in public service where her advocacies, particularly area development, can flourish.