Palace defends Cimatu's appointment from critics

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 9) — Malacañang defends the appointment of a retired military general to replace Gina Lopez as environment chief.

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said on Tuesday that acting Secretary Roy Cimatu was chosen due to his capacity to strike an "objective point of view" in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

"He (President Rodrigo Duterte) felt that Cimatu was extraordinarily gifted for the task of balancing environmental concerns with mining operations concerns," Abella said.

But Duterte's appointment of Cimatu, a former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief, was met with swift condemnation from several cause-oriented groups on Monday.

"Cimatu has virtually no track record on addressing environmental issues and instead has a record of defending environmental plunderers and engaging in corruption," environmental group Kalikasan said.

In a strongly-worded statement, the group brought up the 2011 AFP 'pabaon' corruption scandal allegedly involving Cimatu and other military officials accused of receiving millions in 'send-off money' as retiring AFP chiefs of staff.

The group argued the DENR did not need a military man to crack down on environmental concerns.

It said in place of Cimatu, Duterte should have defied mining oligarchs and reappointed Lopez, or should have chosen someone who was pro-people and pro-environment.

Environmental group Greenpeace, likewise, expressed concern over Duterte's hasty replacement of Lopez.

In a statement, Greenpeace said issues raised by Lopez during her term as DENR secretary and the circumstances surrounding her rejection should not be swept under the rug.

The advocacy group asked the administration to reveal who endorsed and backed Cimatu as DENR chief, in the interest of transparency.

"We also wish to underline that we in the environmental movement will keep a watchful eye, regardless of who sits at the DENR," it said.

Militant groups Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and Anakbayan, on the other hand, claimed the appointment was an attempt to "militarize" parts of government.

"First, General Ricardo Visaya was appointed at the National Irrigation Administration. Now Cimatu is poised to lead the DENR," Kilusang Magbubukid Secretary General Antonio Flores said in a statement.

KMP said it was wary of Cimatu's alleged partiality towards large-scale mining firms.

"Cimatu at the DENR will only work well for the benefit of mining companies," Flores said.