Philippines: Miners triumph as eco-warrior Regina Lopez booted from office
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Philippines: Miners triumph as eco-warrior Regina Lopez booted from office

PHILIPPINE lawmakers forced Environment Secretary Regina Lopez out of office on Wednesday, ending a 10-month tenure during which she ordered the closure of more than half the country’s mines and banned open-pit mining.

Lopez’s rejection by the Commission on Appointments is final and a mining group said it would seek to reverse her controversial measures which were largely supported by President Rodrigo Duterte. His spokesman said Duterte would respect the panel’s decision.

“It is the constitutional right of every Filipino to a clean and healthy environment,” an emotional, at times angry, Lopez told reporters.

“It was a dream and promise we had for the country, it is unfortunate that business interests have in fact run the day.”

A committed environmentalist, Lopez was selected by Duterte because of her record as an activist dedicated to the poor, which included cleaning up the Pasig river that flows through the heart of Manila, reforestation work and safeguarding areas of biodiversity.

SEE ALSO: Philippines: Eco-warrior stands firm on her order of mine closures

The Philippines is the world’s top supplier of nickel ore, used by China for steel production, and metals traders said suspended nickel mines could reopen. Nickel futures on the London Metal Exchange slumped more than 2 percent as news of Lopez’s ouster spread.

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines said it would seek the reversal of Lopez’s moves to close mines and ban open-pit mining as soon as a new minister was appointed.

“We feel that those have no legal foundation,” said Chamber spokesman Ronald Recidoro. “There were no proper consultations held. And more importantly it’s really out to kill the mining industry.”

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A worker looks at the Rapu Rapu open pit mine in Albay province, central Philippines. Source: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

Lopez, 63, is the daughter of a media mogul. At 18, she left a life of privilege behind in thePhilippines, took a vow of celibacy and became a yoga teacher and missionary in Africa, living in slums among the poor.

In February, Lopez ordered the closure of 22 of the country’s 41 operating mines and the cancellation of dozens of contracts for undeveloped mines to protect water resources. Last week, she banned open-pit mining.

Lopez said any replacement would “get clobbered” if they ran afoul of business interests.

SEE ALSO: We haven’t got time to waste when it comes to the environment

Lawmakers on the appointments committee voted 16-8 in favour of removing Lopez.

Senator Manny Pacquiao, head of the environment committee that held the hearings to determine Lopez’s qualifications, announced the outcome “with sadness in my heart.”

“I believe in my heart no matter how several big people may be against Gina, she will always stand on what is morally and environmentally right and righteous,” said Pacquiao, referring to Lopez by her nickname.

Pacquiao said the deliberation was “perhaps the longest, dramatic and most watched by all Filipinos from all walks of life.” – Reuters