Lopez faces CA bypass
The congressional Commission on Appointments (CA) on Tuesday deferred a decision whether to confirm or reject the nomination of Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, stoking uncertainty over the outlook for mining in the Philippines, the world’s top nickel ore supplier.
Lopez informed the CA last week that she would travel to the United States and would not be able to attend her confirmation hearing on Tuesday.
But that did not save her from being skewered in both houses of Congress, where lawmakers—some with interests in mining—and officials raked her over the coals for her “highly illegal” and “whimsical” orders to shut or suspend mines.
Lopez last month ordered 23 mines located in watersheds shut and five others suspended.
She also canceled 75 contracts for mining projects located in watersheds.
Her decisions provoked the ire of the mining industry and its dependents, whose representatives vehemently opposed her nomination at her first confirmation hearing last week.
On Tuesday, as Lopez was not there to face another round of questioning from lawmakers, the CA deferred a vote on her nomination, as the legislators could not reach a clear decision without more information.
Sen. Manny Pacquiao, chair of the CA committee on environment and natural resources, said Lopez would be bypassed, as her nomination would remain pending as Congress would hold a final session today before going on a break.
“In May, we will [re]open the hearing. We still have a lot of questions for her,” he said.
Pacquiao, however, held out hope for Lopez’s confirmation.
“She has a chance, but it’s 50-50,” Pacquiao told reporters after emerging from a caucus of his committee.
The bypassing of Lopez means President Duterte can reappoint her to his Cabinet, or name someone else to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Pacquiao said he was sure Mr. Duterte would reappoint Lopez.
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP), which groups large-scale miners, said it was unfortunate that the CA had failed to vote and that it hoped Mr. Duterte would not reappoint Lopez, instead finding somebody “more moderate.”
“Our call is for the President to choose somebody that [the] government and [the] industry can work with, because Secretary Lopez has caused so much division,” said COMP official Ronald Recidoro.
Pacquiao said his committee would give Lopez a transcript of Tuesday’s proceedings, during which the panel heard from Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, cochair of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC), which is reviewing the audit that led to Lopez’s closure orders.
Dominguez said Lopez violated due process when she ordered the closure of 23 mines and the suspension of five others last month.
“Dole (Department of Labor and Employment) said they were not consulted. I believe the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) also said they were not consulted,” Dominguez told the lawmakers.
“So I think there was some kind of failure in the charge of due process,” he said.
Finance Undersecretary Bayani Agabin told the panel that the MICC review may take three months for the 28 mines that Lopez had ordered shut or suspended and “two to three years” for all the 311 mines in the Philippines.
Lopez has questioned the review. But Dominguez said he was after the proper enforcement of the law.
Dominguez said lapses in the observance of due process could expose the government to legal risks, including the possibility of costly international arbitration proceedings.
Agabin said the mines remained operating. The Office of the President, he said, has set no specific timetable within which to resolve appeals from the affected mining companies.
In the House of Representatives, Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, chair of the committee on good government and public accountability, said Lopez did not follow the recommendation of her own audit team to penalize erring mines according to their violations and instead decided to summarily close the mines.
“So, if we study it, this is only on the whim of Secretary Lopez who overruled the technical committee, ‘No, this is not right.’ It’s not an objective view, but the subjective view of Secretary Lopez, and that is highly illegal,” Pimentel said.
Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Barbers assailed the “arbitrary” closure orders and questioned the composition of the mining audit team.
“Nobody knows who the mining audit team members are. I was told one of the members of the audit team was a personality coming from an NGO that is antimining. How can that be aboveboard? How was the mining audit conducted? Did they go to the site? Did they bring technical people [there]?” he said.
Barbers opposed the closure orders, saying there was only one industry in his district—mining.
“We will lose thousands of jobs in my district. We have no other industry except mining.” he said.