Just in case: Duterte allies endorse young lawyer as new DENR chief
A day before the resumption of the confirmation hearing on the appointment of controversial Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Gina Lopez, some allies of President Duterte have thrown a new name to replace her for the post—just in case.
A press statement on Monday quoted leaders of President Duterte’s party PDP-Laban in Caraga, of his campaign groups, and of his fraternity Lex Talionis as endorsing 37-year-old lawyer and former local government official Mark Kristopher Tolentino.
In the last elections, Tolentino was the sole PDP-Laban candidate endorsed by Duterte in the Caraga region, for the mayoralty of his hometown Cabadbaran city, though Tolentino lost in the race. Tolentino previously made a name as the town’s youngest municipal councilor at 15 years old, as president of the local Sangguniang Kabataan. He also served in the Office of the Solicitor General.
Tolentino, also a graduate from the President’s alma mater San Beda College, is currently a private litigation lawyer, a professor at the De La Salle University, and hosts a public service legal consultation program on radio.
“What’s even more laudable with Tolentino’s impressive credentials is his advocacy for responsible mining. Being a resident of Caraga region where mining activities are widespread, he is a hard-hitting advocate against destructive mining and condemns the proliferation of illegal mining operation in his region,” said PDP-Laban Caraga regional chair Manny Lumanao, in a statement.
“Although he supports the utilization of our mineral resources as drivers of economic progress in host communities, he finds the middle ground where environmental protection also must be drawn,” Lumanao added.
For his part, Y! Duterte founding member Jun Alvizo noted: “Once and for all, let someone from the place directly affected by environmental destruction, such as destructive mining, be appointed to head the agency concerned.”
In a phone interview, Alvizo said his group endorsed Tolentino particularly to the DENR post because Tolentino was a staunch “advocate against environmental destruction,” but at the same time, “his approach would be more careful, because he knows the law…He would approach problems in a more scientific way.”
However, Alvizo clarified they were endorsing Tolentino only “in the eventuality” that Lopez does not get confirmed. For this reason, Alvizo belied any conflict with the President’s or his supporters’ earlier statements expressing support for Lopez.
Likewise, Valerie Duque Abella of the Rody Duterte Support Group (RDSG) in Davao, who has initiated a signature campaign for Tolentino’s Cabinet appointment, was quoted in the statement as saying: “The legal perspective of [Tolentino], add to that his passionate crusade on environmental protection and personal exposure to the mining industry, truly serve him best in becoming a good alter ego of the President.”
Retired Court of Appeals Justice Francisco Nick Acosta, Duterte’s law school classmate and fraternity brother, as well as San Beda Law Alumni President, was also quoted as giving his two cents on Tolentino: “He continually strives for professional growth and is an excellent servant loyal to the country and is for this administration’s clean and good government….Our brothers in the Lex Talionis Fraternity will not be surprised if he is endorsed or appointed by the President,” Acosta said.
On the other hand, no less than the communist-led National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), with whom the Duterte administration is currently forging peace talks, has thrown their support behind Lopez, as well as other leftist Cabinet Secretaries Rafael Mariano for Agrarian Reform and Judy Taguiwalo for Social Welfare.
In a statement, Fidel Agcaoili, NDFP Panel chair, noted that the three Secretaries’ inclusion in the Cabinet “bodes well for the entire peace process as they would be in a position to help push much-needed socio-economic reforms.”
Agcaoili cited Lopez’ “willingness to work with the revolutionary forces in protecting the environment against destructive mining operations.”
“On other hand, their removal from office by reactionary interests will run counter to the people’s long-standing desire for reforms in government,” Agcaoili said.
Environmental groups and communities affected by mines have long unified to back Lopez’ confirmation, a support which culminated in a thousands-strong rally outside the Senate last March 1.
“We need someone like Lopez, a DENR chief with integrity and political will…who will ensure strict compliance with our environmental laws,” said Gerry Arances of the Center for Energy Ecology and Development (CEED), in a recent statement. “Because if the President is forced to appoint someone at the DENR who can be bought off, or someone who will wilt under the pressure of these mining companies, they will only be emboldened and they will not be afraid to violate our laws.” JE
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