CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 19 August 2017

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Self-interest the big winner over the common good

MANILA (SE): Even in a country where honesty in government requires the commitment of a saint, the gutsy determination of a boxer, the courage of an explorer and a skin as thick as a rhinoceros, the decision to reject the appointment of Gina Lopez as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources by the Commission on Appointments stands out as one of the more outlandish victories of self-interest over the common good.
 
The chosen handmaid of the incumbent president, Rodrigo Duterte, Lopez was viewed as a prophet of hope by those who have seen their once fertile land turn barren, their clean water poisoned and mountains denuded.
 
Even among Church workers, who saw little to clap for in Duterte’s election as president, there was wide support for him on his choice of Lopez and heartfelt praise for his promise to stop the rot and destruction of what the bishops called the once beautiful land gifted by God to the Filipino people in their landmark 1988 pastoral letter, What is happening to our beautiful land?
 
A pioneer of corporate responsibility and an environmentalist of great note, Lopez’ determination to close down mining operations that did not fulfill their conditions of contract or were operating illegally was always going to be confrontational.
 
Adding fuel to the fire, to date she has ordered the closure of 23 mines across the country and suspended five others for their failure to meet the environmental standards required by the much-ignored Philippine law.
 
Predictably, she failed to get backing from the congress for her appointment prior to the March 15 break, but to his credit, a determined Duterte reappointed her.
 
However, on May 3 her little empire fell apart, as the Commission on Appointments, weighed heavily in favour of personal interest in mining, either through direct involvement or patronage, drew the final fatal red line through her name.
 
Lopez was philosophical, as no doubt she, along with most of the country had seen the writing on the wall. She told the press after her rejection was confirmed, “It is very sad that in the Commission on Appointments, clearly business interests have run the day.”
 
In a reflective mood, she then commented, “This needs to be reevaluated, because how can a body, which is mandated to make decisions based on the common good, make decisions based on business interests?”
 
Duterte, for his part, called it a pity, saying that she is a woman of great passion, something that he really likes.
 
However, the highly decorated environmental advocate, Father Edwin Gariguez, was more forthright, saying that the Commission on Appointments should resign.
 
“They don’t have the moral authority or ascendancy to remain in their posts, because they are not serving the people, but the interests of corporations and their personal agenda,” UCAN quoted him as saying.
 
When Lopez was grilled by the commission, she was accused of acting without the backing of the law in issuing penalties against mining companies.
 
In her own defence, she argued that successive audits had found irregularities in the operations of the mines that she has censored, but Alan Cayetano, in claiming that the whole commission is concerned about the welfare of the health of the land as well as lifting the people out of poverty, accused her of acting on the prerogative of position rather than in accord with any legal requirement.
 
The Inquirer quoted her as telling the commission hearing, “All the audit teams agreed that there were violations. We were not breaking the law at all.”
 
She then turned on Cayetano’s posturing, saying, “Allow me… I applaud you for your feeling for the people. So allow me to implement your dreams. Because in a green economy, if you rehab the mines, 95 per cent of the money goes back inside. The problem with mining is that 95 per cent goes out of the local economy.”
 
On 9 November 2009, just over one year before he was shot in broad daylight in a market in Puerto Princesa City on 24 January 2011, Gerry Ortega told a press conference held at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong that mining is bleeding The Philippines dry.
 
The high profile environmental advocate from Palawan estimated that already almost 90 per cent of the nation’s vast mineral wealth had been mined and stressed that he does not believe that extracting the remaining 10 or so per cent would do anything for the welfare of the people either.
 
Ortega concurred with Lopez in saying that well over 90 per cent of the money gleaned from mining sits in the bank accounts of foreign companies that bankroll it and of that which does remain, it is mostly siphoned off into the pockets of congress members and government officials.
 
He also pointed out that the bulk of the royalties due to the provincial government had not been paid and what had been was mostly remitted in kind, usually through infrastructure development, like roads, where some 90 per cent is creamed off by officials as expenses.
 
Many a migrant worker in Hong Kong can back up Lopez’ claim to illegalities in mining.
 
They have stated at a variety of forums in Hong Kong that they only came to work in the city after mining companies bribed and bullied their way onto their lands, destroying once profitable agricultural and fishing enterprises.
 
To date, unlike Ortega, Lopez has yet to take an assassin’s bullet, but she has fallen under the ax of the corporate assassins, who conspire to ensure that no one puts the common good ahead of their own interests.

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