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WATCH | Lopez rushing moves against miners because she 'doubts CA will confirm' her

DENR Secretary Gina Lopez on Gina Lopez: no college degree or extensive executive preparation, but enough experience working with people; doesn't understand intricacies of mining, but stands for common good; rushing controversial moves against miners because she doubts CA will confirm her. REUTERS FILE PHOTO means BUSINESS

MANILA - Environment Secretary Gina Lopez has admitted she is rushing a series of controversial decisions because she doubts she could be confirmed by the Commission on Appointments where her nomination has been formally opposed by the mining industry.

Ahead of the scheduled March 1 hearing of the bicameral body on her appointment to the DENR, Lopez said she wants to be done with a slew of measures that she thinks are vital to protecting the country's natural resources and prevent despoilation.

The DENR chief, speaking to reporters, admitted she is not a college graduate - in response to critics' claims at the CA that she lacks the academic preparation and experience necessary to head the DENR - but said she had enough experience working with people to know what must be done at her agency.

She also admitted she does not know the intricacies of mining, but stressed that she stands for the common good.

Lopez spoke to reporters after announcing she is set to cancel 75 mineral production sharing agreements (MPSAs) allegedly because the operations covered by these deals are within watersheds.

Sanctity of contracts

The announcement, which followed last week's cancellation of the permits of 23 metallic mineral firms, drew a howl of protest from the business community. The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines reminded her the sanctity of contracts was a pillar of business confidence; and estimated that the cancellation of the 75 deals could spell some $22 billion in lost investments.

According to the Philippine Mining Act, mining projects are prohibited in critical watersheds or those sites needing protection.

Lopez said earlier the DENR commenced issuing Tuesday its show-cause orders for holders of non-operating MPSAs to justify, within seven days, why the government agency must not cancel these agreements.

"We're following due process," she said. She said DENR will act accordingly if the MPSA holders fail to respond.

According to DENR, an MPSA is a mineral agreement wherein government -- as owner of the country's minerals -- shares in production of a contractor whether in kind or in value.

In return, DENR said the contractor shall provide the necessary financing, technology, management and personnel for the mining project.

Lopez reiterated her plan for the DENR to spearhead area development in the MPSA areas and other mining sites the agency earlier deemed for closure.

Among those to be affected by the planned cancellation of 75 MPSAs is the Silangan project of Philex Mining and four other Philex projects in Mindanao. Philex said earlier in a statement none of its subsidiary's MPSAs is within a declared watershed forest reserve; and that the MPSAs underwent thorough review by government.

Lopez also wants to cancel the environment permit of the $5.9-billion Tampakan project in South Cotabato, described as one of the biggest foreign direct investments in the Philippines.

$22-B investments

The Chamber of Mines estimates this could wipe out $22 billion in investments that could have created jobs and livelihood to communities covered by the project.

Atty. Deo Contreras, mining consultant, said Lopez "can do well with the Department of Tourism because it's a feeling-good department." However, much of the work at DENR "is technical and affects communities."

The chamber has formally filed an opposition to Lopez's nomination at the Commission on Appointments.


The Chamber said that besides Lopez's apparent bias against mining, she does not have the educational preparation and experience necessary for someone leading the DENR.

Lopez is not a college graduate, and did not hold any major executive position except that at the ABS-CBN Foundation, CSR arm of her family's media network.

Nelia Halcon, executive vice president of the Chamber, said a responsible Cabinet secretary cannot whimsically just say, "I want to close this, I'll close that." That cannot be done without causing an adverse "domino effect on the entire economy," Halcon warned.

Lopez said she indeed had no bachelor's degree because she became a missionary for many years, but said she held a degree at the Asian Institute of Management.

"I didn't finish college. I have decades of working with people. From my point of view that holds [more] value than a bookish experience in the classroom,"  stressed Lopez.

'Mining's intricacies'

She also admitted she has a limited grasp of mining. "I'm not a miner and you're right, I don't understand the intricacies of it, but I stand for common good. I don't have to have a doctor's degree in mining [to know] that if you put holes there and it affects [the] water of people, that's wrong. I don't need to know eveything. I know enough; I've been explained [to] enough and I have gone there."

She virtually admitted she is rushing her moves because she doubts she can get the nod of the Commission on Appointments.

"Let me do things that have to be done and I'm not gonna risk it not being done in case I don't get an appointment or there's a rejection. Let me do everything now -- the closure and [enforcing] no mining in watersheds."

Halcon said Lopez is obviously "buying time before the confirmation to convince people" of the rightness of her moves.

Malacañang Palace backed Lopez's moves, saying it is in accord with the law. However, said the Palace, Lopez must ensure all of her moves follow due process. With a report from PNA