March 24, 2017, 12:17 pm
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Gina Lopez bypassed; Miners hope she won’t be reappointed

THE confirmation of Regina Lopez as environment secretary is deemed bypassed by the Commission on Appointment as Congress adjourns today for a Lenten break.

Sen. Manny Pacquiao, chair of the CA committee on environment and natural resources, said because of Lopez’ absence in yesterday’s caucus, she lost an opportunity to answer issues raised by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, especially on how to cover revenue losses due to her order to close several mining companies.

Pacquiao said his panel would no longer vote on whether Lopez’ nomination to the post would be forwarded to the plenary or not when it resumes session today. 

Lopez last week said she would be out of the country this week for a retreat but did not give details.

Pacquiao said President Duterte could reappoint Lopez   and the CA would again tackle her confirmation when session resumes in May.

Under government procedures, Duterte will need to reappoint Lopez, with further confirmation hearings expected in May, when Congress returns from a recess.

“In May, we will re-open the hearing. We still have a lot of questions for her,” Pacquiao said.

During the panel’s caucus, Dominguez, who was speaking as co-chair of Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC), told lawmakers the government collected P20.6 billion in taxes from mining companies in 2012, P24.4 billion in 2013, P32.7 billion in 2014, and P29.57 billion in 2015.

“Now, it is very difficult if total mining were closed. It will be very difficult for us to immediately cover this shortfall,” Dominguez told lawmakers.

He said the loss could be covered by revenues from tourism and agriculture “but believe me it will take more than five years siguro (maybe) to cover that from another source.”

Aside from revenue losses for the national government, Dominguez said funding for local government units would also be affected because 90 percent of their budgets rely on mining.

“What will happen to the services provided by the local government units to the senior citizens, health care, infant care?” he said.

Aside from that, about 200,000 people who are directly hired by the mining firms would be affected, “but these 200,000 people are only those who are directly hired, adding that the DENR should also take into consideration other services that are provided to mines such the trucking and food supply.

He said mining is in the daily life of every Filipino. “You want a cellphone, you need a mine. You want a car, you need a mine. You want gasoline, you need mining activity. You need cement, you need mining activity. So, it’s not a question of one or the other. I think you need some form of mining or else we might as well go back to the stone age,” he said.

“You have to balance one group’s interest with another’s, another group’s interest. And that is what makes being secretary difficult. It is very easy to be a crusader. But being a secretary requires I think I little more than a crusader,” he added.

Dominguez also said Lopez failed to comply with due process when she ordered the closure of 23 mining companies and suspended five others.

“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 said.

The MICC has initiated a technical review of the mining audit that led to Lopez’ closure and suspension orders. He said the body has started the process of assembling five review teams, with the vetting of members expected to be done by this week.

Finance Undersecretary Bayani Agabin said the review might take three months for the 28 affected mines, and “two to three years” for all 311 mines in the country.

Nevertheless, Agabin said the suspension orders have not been enforced and that the mines ordered shut have continued to operate.

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, which groups large-scale miners, said it was unfortunate the congressional panel failed to vote and that it hoped Duterte would not reappoint Lopez, and instead find somebody “more moderate.”

“Our call is for the president to choose somebody that government and industry can work with because Secretary Lopez has caused so much division,” Ronald Recidoro from the Chamber of Mines said. – Jed Macapagal and Reuters
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