Philippine environment chief Regina Lopez dumped as miners triumph

Lopez had sent shock waves through the industry during her 10 months as environment chief, seeking to shut down roughly two-thirds of the nation’s existing mines and banning any new open-pit operations

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 May, 2017, 4:48pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 May, 2017, 4:48pm

Philippine Environment Secretary Regina Lopez was sacked on Wednesday when lawmakers rejected her appointment, in a big victory for the mining industry which she had accused of corruption and abuse.

Lopez had sent shock waves through the industry during her 10 months as environment chief, seeking to shut down roughly two-thirds of the nation’s existing mines and banning any new open-pit operations.

What’s stopping the Philippines from mining its riches?

However, despite the strong support of President Rodrigo Duterte who had threatened to shut down the mining industry completely, a congressional body rejected Lopez’s appointment.

“If you want to be confirmed, don’t go against big business!” an angry Lopez shouted during a long press conference after the ruling.

“It’s wrong when lawmakers don’t stand up for the rights of every Filipino, but rather big business. It’s really very wrong.”

Last week, she also announced the ban on open-pit mining, which would have sounded the death knell for one of the world’s biggest planned copper projects in the south of the country.

Mining Inc had run a high-profile campaign to have the Commission on Appointments reject her, arguing she was jeopardising the lives of 1.2 million people who were dependent on the industry.

The Duterte effect: half of metal mines in Philippines have breached environmental rules

The Chamber of Mines released a statement on Wednesday thanking the commission for its quick decision.

“This is not the end, but rather the beginning of a new chapter for the mining industry,” the statement said.

With the Philippines being the world’s biggest supplier of nickel ore and a major source of copper, Lopez’s campaign had impacted global commodity prices.

Lopez had sought to shut down 28 of the nation’s 40 mines and cancel the contracts of dozens of others.

Environment groups expressed outrage.

“The rejection demonstrates the continued control of powerful destructive industries such as mining in the country’s legislative houses, and the reform promised to Filipinos is a sham,” the Green Thumb coalition, grouping dozens of environment groups, said in a statement.

“It clearly shows where the heart of the Duterte administration is, and clearly it is manifested with big and powerful mining companies.”

Congress rejecting a president’s cabinet appointment is extremely rare in Philippine politics.

But, despite Duterte’s ruling coalition having a majority in both houses of congress, Lopez was the second of his appointments to be rejected.

Perfecto Yasay was in March dumped as foreign secretary when the commission on appointments ruled he had lied in congressional hearings about him holding American citizenship.