Zamudio: Filipino people’s trust betrayed

MAY 3, 2017 was a sad day for the Filipino people. It was a date that will go down in infamy, not only because of what transpired but by the way it came to be.

The powerful Commission on Appointments (CA) rejected the ad-interim designation of Gina Lopez as Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary effectively forcing the hand of President Rodrigo Duterte to look for a replacement.

In Lopez’s exit the country has lost a golden opportunity to curb the destructive practices of mining companies which have literally destroyed communities, their water sources, rivers, coast lines, and forest lands.

The only individual in recent memory who had the passion and the guts to confront the well-entrenched elite of the mineral extracting industry had been thrown under the bus. Any hope for meaningful reforms in the preservation of the nation’s natural resources for the next generations to enjoy had been lost.

No less than President Duterte himself said he was disappointed at the repudiation of his DENR nominee. But had he done enough to ensure that Lopez pass the gauntlet that was the CA? Despite his previous promise of change coming to Philippine governance, including a stop to illegal and unsustainable mining processes, the firebrand had succumbed to the ugly tentacles of traditional politics. His cold statements and reappointment of the irresponsible mining nemesis after she was first rejected belied the chief executive’s apparent change of mind vis-a-vis one of his laudable campaign promises.

It’s obvious the controversial chief executive did not do enough to influence his allies to confirm Lopez. If he did, the president’s sky high popularity and immense political capital could have turned things around for his former protégé. It is possible his campaign patrons from the mining sector have come a knocking unto the chief of state’s front door with collection plate in hand; he had to tone down “words of praise” for the beleaguered aspirant.

Arguably, President Duterte’s beef with ABS-CBN, the media giant ironically owned by the family of the cabinet candidate, which he accuses of biased reporting on his administration’s war on illegal drugs, was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

The head of state’s measured voice of support, nay; sometimes stony silence while the environment proponent was fighting off the attack dogs unleashed by the mining lobby could have been construed by his bloc mates as a tacit approval of Lopez’s renunciation. Of course out of respect for Congress as a co-equal branch under the concept of separation of powers the president was restrained from having to publicly strong-arm the CA.

Granted this is a basic parliamentary doctrine that must be adhered to, there are many ways to skin a cat, so to speak, especially if national interest is at stake.

In a functional democracy members of the ruling party or coalition normally support the nominating authority’s choice while the minority, in its role as fiscalizer takes the other side of the divide. In the case of Lopez, the reverse happened as many in the majority bloc voted to reject her, if unofficial reports on the voting are accurate.

The CA confirmation hearing was an uphill battle for Lopez right from the get go. Commission vice chair representative Ronaldo Zamora and Representative Weslie Gatchalian, whose families own equities in nickel and other mineral recovery concerns, refused to recuse from voting. Senator Panfilo Lacson, one of the few members who openly admit opting against Lopez questioned her competence, even claiming the heiress showed dictatorial tendencies in her few months in office. He also conceded receiving election funds from the Zamoras same as Senator Alan Cayetano, if the news is to be believed. It will forever be a mystery what prompted self-styled environmentalist Senator Jose Miguel Zubiri to vote no, as the secretary designate claims he did.

Unfortunately, the Filipino people will never officially know who voted for the rejection of Lopez and hold them to account on Election Day because the balloting was secret in an already executive session. Senator JV Ejercito alleged there were “no signatures, and all used pencils” while Congressman Rodolfo Albano III said the voting “was so secret that I even forgot my vote.”

This was stupidity of the highest order and a mockery of the democratic process. The present CA will go down in legislative history as the only committee to have spurned a candidate without a complete congressional record of the returns. Why the body formulated this insane polling rule is smack of betrayal of the people’s faith. It blatantly goes against the spirit of transparency and the public’s right to be informed of the actions of their elected officials.

The CA must have anticipated the backlash if they rebuffed Lopez, it was decided votes will be hidden from popular scrutiny. Those who cast the die against the maverick contender based their choice not on prevailing evidence and question of competence but on vested interests. So embarrassed are they of this fact the commission did not want the public to discern the absurdity of their decision. What cowardice and hypocrisy.
It was clear, even affirmed in media by the president, lobby money made the day for the confirmation tally.

Filipinos have long endured the hegemony of the ruling class in their economic and political affairs, always hoping somebody would come along to champion them. No one stepped up to play superhero so the CA put politics before the country’s good. They refused to confirm the best DENR Secretary the Philippines never had.
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