Gov't shouldn't side with big businesses - Lopez

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — After the palace and the cabinet members halted the closure of more than 20 mining firms, Environment Secretary Gina Lopez said the government should always be for the poor.

"The only entity that can stand against political and business interest is the government. And if we co-opt our role to the side of big business, what's going to happen to these guys? The farmers and fishermen who have been suffering for decades," Lopez said.

On February 2, Lopez announced the closure order of 23 mining firms all over the Philippines.

However, this was halted by the palace and the cabinet members on February 8, as they would like to hear the explanation of the firms.

Lopez said 15 of the mining firms are operating inside a watershed, which could pollute the water source.

"The mining law says you should not disadvantage the present and future generations. When you kill the river and the streams and you put mining in watersheds, what are you doing?" Lopez said in a joint press briefing with Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella Thursday noon.

According to Section 19 of Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, proclaimed watershed forest reserves are closed to mining applications.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau, which is under the DENR, processes mining applications.

Owners of mining companies immediately reacted after Lopez announced the closure order, saying they do not violate environmental laws.

Surigao del Sur Representative Prospero Pichay, who has interests in Claver Mineral Development Corp. (CMDC), said the DENR decision was "unfounded."

"You are not from my district. Who are you to make unfounded judgement to make my people suffer? I cannot just take it sitting down," Pichay said in a press conference Saturday.

CMDC is one of the mining firms ordered to be closed by Lopez.

The environment secretary said ownership is not the only consideration when it comes to businesses.

"Even if you don't have business interest … the fact is, mining money funds political campaigns. You know that," she said. "But I know that when you are funded by whoever, then you are indebted to that person. And so what happens is the decisions those people make are, by and large, always in favor of the people who funded their campaign," Lopez added.

President Rodrigo Duterte has long been vocal on his stance against mining. However, reports on his Statement of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE) say some of his funders are from the mining sector.

The Environment secretary said the final decision regarding the closure is still up to the president.

"At the end of the day, he makes the decision and in the Cabinet meeting, his last closing remark in front of everyone, he (said), "I agree 'no that there shouldn't be any mining industry in watersheds," Lopez said.