Environment Secretary Gina Lopez on Thursday refuted reports that her decision to ban mineral extraction in watersheds was suspended by members of the Cabinet following a meeting on Wednesday.
In a press conference in Malacañang, Lopez stood by her order to shut mines operating in watersheds, saying her decision was based on laws and the Constitution.
“What happened there, they want to make sure I followed the rule of law and I did. They were scared that what I did was pretty something, 23 mines, oh my God,” Lopez told reporters.
“I’m totally in my rights to close down the mines, if they don’t agree, they will appeal, when they appeal to the President, the mines still continues operations while it’s on appeal. Then when the President sees the appeal, then it’s final, then they can go to court,” she added.
The Finance department, in a statement, said that the Cabinet decided to intervene following the “outrage” triggered by Lopez’s order “in communities hosting mining sites.” It noted that some 195,000 direct and indirect workers and their families, or a total of some 1.2 million people, would be adversely affected by the closure and suspensions of the mine sites.
But Lopez said she was pursuing “social justice” for the poor, who should benefit from mining’s contribution to the economy.
She said she was aware she was going against some politicians whose past campaigns may have been funded by mining companies.
“I’m not saying any names, I know when you are funded by whoever, then you are indebted to that person,” Lopez said.
Lopez stressed she would “not cop out” in her fight against destructive mining, adding “only a miracle” will make her reconsider her decision.
Malacañang said members of the Cabinet backed President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to observe due process before implementing Lopez’s order.
In a statement, Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the “President and his Cabinet collectively decided to observe due process with regard to the mining issue.”
Abella said the affected mining firms will be given the opportunity to “respond or dispute” the mining audit done by the DENR.
The mining firms will also be given the chance to “make the necessary remedies to ensure compliance with government standards,” Abella added.
“The Department of Finance (DOF) shall have further discussions with the DENR in their capacities as concerned government agencies of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC),” he added.
Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo said her department will conduct a survey to determine the extent of joblessness that will result from Lopez’s move.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd also on Thursday denied any involvement in any mining companies or ventures.
“I have no mining interest. I have no investment in mine. I have no stocks in mines,” he told reporters at the sidelines of the Mining Industry Coordinating Committee meeting.
Dominguez clarified that he was only involved in mining twice -in 1999 and 2003 when he was the Chief
Executive Officer of Philippine Associated Smelting and Refining Corp. (PASAR) and when he was invited to rehabilitate the Rapu Rapu Mine.
WITH MAYVELIN U. CARABALLO