Former DENR Chief faces fourth complaint before the Ombudsman

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Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate environment committee, quizzed resource persons whether farmers can plant high-value crops such as coffee and cocoa in government-owned forests during the DENR budget hearing conducted by the Senate Finance committee. DENR officials led by Secretary Gina Lopez promised to look into this inquiry.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 4) — A mining company filed graft charges against former Environment Secretary Gina Lopez over alleged abuse of authority.

Mining firm Citinickel Mining and Development Corporation accused Lopez of imposing requirements without legal basis, before the government issued it a permit to export minerals, its lawyer Attorney Lorna Kapunan said Wednesday.

"It is crystal clear that Secretary Lopez is not only unaware of the limits of her office, she likewise displays a propensity to be a tyrant that cannot be reasoned out with," said Kapunan, who filed the complaint on behalf of Citinickel.

The complaint was filed hours before the Commission on Appointments (CA) rejected the appointment of Lopez as Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) amid issues over her controversial policies and alleged incompetence.

Related: CA rejects Gina Lopez appointment as DENR chief

Citinickel, which has mining operations in the towns of Narra and Sofronio Espanola in Palawan, is one of the companies affected by Lopez's order suspending mining operations in the country. 

Kapunan said Citinickel is unable to export stockpile of mines from last year due to of unreasonable demands from the DENR chief.

"To impose obstacles against Citinickel, which is in full compliance, based on your audit, I think it's abusive and requires to be penalized under the Office of the Ombudsman," she said.

Lopez allegedly required Citinickel to establish a trust fund of P2 million per hectare of disturbed land for displaced communities.

Lopez on Wednesday defended her decision on the trust fund, saying the right of the Filipinos to clean environment was paramount.

"What's wrong with giving P2 million for the farmers you have disadvantaged? You're already going to make so much money, so just give it," she said in a press conference after news of her rejection by the Commission on Appointments.

But Citinickel said it has already been depositing to two similar funds for the same purpose, under the requirements of the Philippine Mining Act.

The DENR chief also supposedly required Citinickel to deposit an additional P1 million per vessel used to ship minerals.

On top of that, Citinickel said she demanded P130 million pesos for environment projects in Palawan.

"Para lang matahimik si Secretary, nag-co-comply ang Citinickel," Kapunan told reporters after she filed the complaint.

Still not operating

Until today, Kapunan said Citinickel has not been able to resume its operations eight months after Lopez had issued suspension orders against mines.

She added the company should be able to operate already as the Office of the President had issued a stay execution order, temporarily putting on hold Lopez's suspension orders.

"Despite the fact that all Cabinet secretaries are under the Office of the President. This is outright insubordination," Kapunan said.

This is the fourth complaint filed against Lopez since she was appointed by Duterte as DENR chief.