POLITICIANS are elected based on the promises they make during the campaign. Just like others, President Duterte outlined in the stumping trail his program of government and vowed to improve the lot of his countrymen. Using less than polished language he titillated the imagination of the Filipino people, more than 16 million of whom voted him to the presidency.
Less than a year into his term, President Duterte, with a calculating mind of a seasoned strategist and sometimes wanton disregard for conventions, boldly initiated the implementation of his pledges. The most controversially executed of these commitments is the war on illegal drugs. It has gained worldwide notoriety that he had to temporarily suspend it following the slaying of a Korean businessman inside the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters. He was forced to do so because the public was scandalized by the fact that the murder was committed by elements of the police themselves. The program was restarted amid continued criticism from international human rights bodies and cries for justice from victims of what many believe as police abuses. He is unrelenting in this crusade that he does not fail to mention in his speeches the menace of illegal drugs and the lengths to which he is willing to go to eradicate it.
He has also issued an order to the executive branch of government to release civil information in his bid to stamp out corruption in government service. He has shown a dislike for high living and has exhorted his appointees to live simply in order to resist the temptation to use their office for self-enrichment. His peace initiatives to end the communist insurgency and the festering Muslim secessionist unrest in Mindanao have gained massive support from the war weary Filipino nation.
He has made many more radical moves and is pursuing other campaign vows, including the shift to federalism but at the moment the most closely watched drama is the one happening at the Commission on Appointments (CA). The appointment or rejection of Gina Lopez as Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary could very well spell the difference between the success and failure of his guarantee to end irresponsible mining.
Gina Lopez is a scion of one of the country’s prominent business families, and staunch environmentalist and social responsibility advocate who spent 20 years of her early life as a yoga missionary in various parts of the world. Upon winning an ad interim appointment as DENR Secretary, Lopez ordered the audit of all mine sites and mining firms in the country and out of the results came up with an unprecedented, if revolutionary, executive measure. She issued a ruling to close 23 mine sites, suspend five more, and revoke 75 mineral production-sharing agreements (MPSA). The erstwhile unheard of audacity of the regulation and attending scrutiny of her competence and media appearances brought to the popular consciousness the extent of degradation of the country’s natural resources.
It has also ushered to the fore the contending issues of business and livelihood versus the preservation of the state’s patrimony. The aerial photographs she mournfully shows in public forums can only tear the heart of every Filipino to the extent at which greed and environmental neglect has destroyed the splendor of the Philippine islands.
But not everyone is cheering on Lopez’s corner. She faces a powerful Commission on Appointments whose members with direct or indirect ties to the mining industry refusing to recuse from the deliberation. The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP), a formidable lobby crowd that vehemently denies improper mining practices among their members despite proofs to the contrary, has actively campaigned for the rejection of Lopez’s appointment. Other motley organizations funded heavily by big interest groups have registered their opposition to Lopez, citing her clack of competence. Her MA in Developmental Management from the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) and track record in promoting social and environmental causes notwithstanding. They also decried the eminent loss of employment arising from the implementation of the order despite statistics saying only mining conglomerates enjoy financial windfall while host- communities suffer marginal lives.
Now it is up to President Duterte to make good on his openly strong support for Lopez if he is really serious, and has not as yet succumbed to political pressures, in saving the country from the man-made disaster of irresponsible mineral extraction. He has previously stated that he is willing to forego the estimated P 70 billion in tax revenues contributed by the mining industry, if only to deliver the country from decades long abuse of its natural heritage.
It is time for the President to put his money where his mouth is. He must use his presidential and moral influence to convince his allies in the CA to confirm Lopez. He can do no less. He is at the threshold of shaping history. The conservation of beautiful Philippines is his legacy to the Filipino people. The success of Lopez in this endeavor will transcend the Duterte presidency and all our lifetime.
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on March 15, 2017.
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