Mindanao communities divided on Gina Lopez’s anti-mining drive
DAVAO CITY – Various groups called on President Rodrigo Duterte to immediately reappoint Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, saying it would be “a necessary ingredient for genuine reforms in the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) and to attain social justice.”
But for Surigao del Sur Gov. Vicente Pimentel Jr., Lopez is unfit for the position and “callous to the real sentiments of the people” in the two mining towns of the province.
The Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) said in a statement that only business interest groups were uncomfortable with Lopez at the helm of the DENR.
Jaybee Garganera, the ATM national coordinator, said in a statement that “people with influence both in business and politics” have been the “same powers that are blocking our reform initiatives.”
“We hope that Secretary Lopez and President Duterte will continue to be our champions against the elite. We hope they will champion the interests of the poor against the interests of the elite,” Garganera said in a statement.
During a recent summit in the Island Garden City of Samal, about 85 tribal leaders in Mindanao also backed Lopez’s reappointment, saying she has been courageous and her heart has always belonged to the poor.
Datu Amarillo Marcelo A. Alejo Jr., the national president of the Indigenous Peoples Conference of the Philippines (IPCP), said Lopez also ensured the protection of the rights of tribal communities.
“DENR ensures the conservation and sustainable development use of biodiversity within the Ancestral Domains through the leadership of Gina Lopez,” a manifesto issued at the end of the summit reads.
Pimentel said Lopez did not know how that her campaign against mining were hurting the ordinary people.
He challenged her to initiate a plebiscite in Carrascal and Cantilan towns to get the real pulse of the residents there, whose livelihood and development prospects have been threatened by the imminent closure of such companies as CTP Construction and Mining Corp.
CTP is owned by Pimentel’s brother, Clarence.
“Why does she want to dictate on our future? Why does she want to decide the kind of livelihood that the people deserved?” Pimentel told reporters.
He also questioned Lopez’s capability to run the DENR, saying she had no technical know-how on the intricacies of her job.
“I am wondering why President Duterte appointed her in the first place when she does not know anything about mining,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel said 7,000 people who have been depending on mines for their living would starve even before Lopez could put in place an ecotourism program as alternative livelihood to the mining operations in the province.
Cantilan Mayor Philip Pichay earlier said it would take three to five years for the ecotourism industry to fully develop and take off.
The Surigao City-based environmental group, Caraga Watch, said it backed Lopez’s drive against mining companies that destroy the environment.
“The speed and method by which these operations extract minerals from the mountains of Caraga is deplorable and it will take more than a decade to rehabilitate these areas,” Caraga Watch said. SFM
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