CA rejects Gina Lopez appointment as DENR chief

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 3) — The Commission on Appointments (CA) rejected Wednesday the appointment of Environment Secretary Gina Lopez amid issues over her controversial policies and alleged incompetence.

Senator Manny Pacquiao, chairperson of the Committee on environment and natural resources, moved to disapprove Lopez's appointment before the plenary session.

No CA member objected to the motion, although some lawmakers made their manifestations, including Senators Tito Sotto, Kiko Pangilinan, JV Ejercito, and Loren Legarda.

The senators, who said they voted for Lopez's confirmation, said they are saddened but they respect the decision of the majority.

"To Gina I truly admire your passion and love for the environment," Pacquiao said as he announced his committee's decision to disapprove Lopez's appointment.

Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon said the Liberal Party actually voted as a bloc for Lopez's confirmation. "Unfortunately, we lost in the vote," he said.

Legarda, an environment advocate, said: "It is unfortunate that we let pass an opportunity for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to be led by someone who has the passion, integrity and political will to implement our environmental laws."

Serve the people

An emotional Lopez faced the media after the announcement of her rejection.

"It is unfortunate that business interest have in fact run the day - because that's really what it is," Lopez said.

She applauded the eight legislators who "voted according to their conscience." She said 16 others voted against her appointment.

She urged the lawmakers to look after the needs of the poor and not of big businesses.

"If government co-opts to big businesses, then what hope does the poor have? What message are we giving here? If you wanna be confirmed, don't go against big businesses," Lopez said.

Lopez is the second presidential appointee to be rejected by the CA – next to former Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay.

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Lopez had faced three confirmation hearings where she answered critics opposing her appointment. She was also bypassed by the congressional body in March but President Rodrigo Duterte reappointed her.

Malacañang: We respect CA decision

Duterte has always expressed support for Lopez, but Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella on Wednesday said Malacañang respects the decision of the CA.

"It is of course with deep concern that CA has seen fit to reject her appointment. On the other hand it's a democratic process and we respect their decision," Abella said in a chance interview with reporters.

Lopez's order in February to close 23 mines and suspend the operations of five others did not sit well with miners and some government officials who accused the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) of not following due process in its audit.

Duterte himself has consistently backed Lopez and the communities harmed by erring miners. However, he has also stressed the need for due process and rule of law in any mining review.

Also read: Duterte: I’d rather follow Gina Lopez than get ₱70B in mining revenue

Lopez said she could not think of anyone who can lead the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) other than Duterte.

"He's the only one that has the guts...It needs guts, it needs tapang (courage) because you have to step on business interest," Lopez said.

"I would still offer my service to President Duterte in terms of development because that's my skill," she added.

'New beginning for mining industry'

Meanwhile, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, which vehemently opposed Lopez's appointment, thanked the CA for rejecting Lopez.

In a statement, it said this marks the "beginning of a new chapter for the mining industry."

"We reiterate our commitment to work with the DENR and the next Secretary to protect the environment and promote the responsible use of our natural resources," the group of miners said.

CNN Philippines' Cecille Lardizabal contributed to this report.