Gina Lopez: New DENR chief 'may have to shed military paradigms'

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Highlights

  • Lopez hopes Cimatu keeps DENR's "developmental thrust"
  • Lopez signed order requiring ₱2 million in mining operatives' sustainable programs instead
  • Lopez says she's not interested in running for Congress, Senate

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 9) — Former Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Gina Lopez hopes her successor, a military man, will be able to work with an old foe, she expressed on Tuesday.

"I really am keen on doing peace zones, which means he may have to shed off his military paradigms and drop it for a while to work together with the [New People's Army]," Lopez said through CNN Philippines' The Source.

Former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Roy Cimatu replaced Lopez on Monday after the Commission on Appointments (CA) rejected her appointment.

Related: Ex-AFP chief Cimatu appointed as acting Environment Secretary

The insurgent group NPA is the armed unit of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Lopez was previously reported to back plans to enlist members of the NPA in local peace and development projects, which she affirmed.

Lopez, who said she did not know Cimatu, said he hoped he was "also developmental."

"Don't leave the developmental thrust of DENR. The way to protect the environment is to go developmental, because it is the people who destroy it, it is also the people who will protect it," she advised.

She added that she can also "offer [her] services" in managing Social Development and Management Programs (SDMP), which she said "can be massive" if used well.

Cimatu has been criticized for not having Lopez's environmental know-how and for being selected to allay the mining industry's jitters. He served as a special envoy to OFW refugees earlier this year.

Lopez went head to head with mining industries after suspending operations and requiring them to pay up for ore stockpiles. She required ₱2 million per hectare of exploited land, which would go into a trust fund for affected and displaced communities.

Her critics and some members of the CA argued that it was not within the secretary's jurisdiction to issue such demands. Citinickel Mining and Development Corporation also raised a graft complaint to the Ombudsman for alleged abuse of authority.

Related: Former DENR Chief faces fourth complaint before the Ombudsman

At least eight people voted to confirm Lopez, but she admitted she thought she had at least 15 votes.

"I didn't realize how absolutely messy politics is... You talk to people... they promise things, they do something else," said Lopez. "It's better to just be upfront and say no."

Lopez reiterated that some members of the CA, including Sen. Alan Cayetano and Sen. Ping Lacson, had a "conflict of interest" given their ties to mining companies.

"So you begin to think, what's this all about? And then the head of the Commission on Appointments in Congress is a miner. Is this really all about whatever they say?" said Lopez.

Two million to SDMP instead

While Lopez stood by her actions, she also revealed she signed an order before she left that would channel the required ₱2 million into the mining firm's own Social Development and Management Programs (SDMP) instead of a trust fund.

SDMPs are plans of contractors to conduct operations "towards the sustained improvement in the living standards of the host and neighboring communities," according to DENR Administrative Order 2010-21.

Lopez explained that the figure of ₱2 million was first projected by the former Undersecretary for Field Operations Philip Camara, who "looked at the costing of rehab efforts... [and] what would be needed for biochar." Biochar is a charcoal that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

"I agree maybe the arbitrary amount of 2 million may have been off-tangent — I'm not perfect and I'm certainly not a lawyer, and that number was given to me," Lopez conceded.

"So what we did before I left is I signed the Department Administrative Order to change the 2 million into a [SDMP]... SDMP is a percentage of operating cost," she added.

She explained the order would add ₱2.25 million to mining firms' SDMPs, which was "perfectly within my authority as DENR Secretary." It was an increase from a former secretary's number of ₱1.5 million, she added.

"In the beginning, I was hesitant to do this because I wanted to put forth a consciousness that if you devastate the farmers, you should pay for it," Lopez said.

However, she still pointed out that ₱2 million was not a lot for these companies, whom she projected to earn more than a billion from stockpiles.

"I mean, just the very fact of people going to make so much money — and in the process of making this money, they have disadvantaged farmers — doesn't it seem right that they pay for that damage?" she said.

What's next for Lopez

Lopez, who posts regularly on social media, still enjoys plenty of popularity. In a Facebook Live session with CNN Philippines anchor Pinky Webb, Lopez got teary-eyed when recalling how Greenpeace activists lobbied for her by strapping themselves to the gates of DENR on Monday.

 

When asked if she was interested in entering politics, she responded, "I don't know, we'll see. But certainly not Senate and Congress, I'd get really bored."

Lopez said that being in the DENR was a "very intense spiritual challenge."

"I felt like I was being sucked in all directions, and I had to stay true," she recalled. "The most important thing in life for me is to be true to me and my values."

Lopez said she is looking into area development, and there are a number of private businesses who want to work with her.