Philippine Champion of the Environment, Gina Lopez

Philippine Champion of the Environment, Gina Lopez
Fr. Shay Cullen

If you want to know the truth painful, as it is, regarding the once beautiful Philippine rain forests, the lovely valleys, the once pristine coast line, just google Philippine mining environmental destruction. Immediately you will see dozens of photographs showing the terrible environmental damage seen in the bare denuded mountains the extensive hills and valleys devoid of vegetation and left vulnerable to the typhoon rains. The water will wash millions of cubic meters of soil into the rivers and streams and poison and destroy lakes and estuaries and cause continuous landslides. Millions of tons of rocks and debris will come roaring down the hills.

As has happened already during recent typhoons, floods, landslides will entomb homes and villages and hundred more will be killed, buried in tons of mud. The rich political families behind the mining industry and their foreign investors continue to grow immensely rich and the Philippines is growing poorer by the hour as backhoes, bulldozers and dynamite gouge and pound the earth to death. Then they scoop it up and ship it unprocessed to China. The corporations are engaged in deadly open pit mining. They have not set up smelters here to create added value to the nickel and other minerals they extract.

The administration of president Rodrigo Dutere has a champion, Secretary Gina Lopez, who has taken a conscious principled stand and says no more, restore the land, halt the irresponsible mining and stop hurting the people.

She has done extensive research, made audits, and asked the mining firms to respond and explain the destruction they caused. She then issued suspension of operation orders to 23 mining firms who have failed to comply with the environmental protection rules and regulations. The corporations owned and backed by the ruling families with their relatives entrenched in the senate and congress are opposing the confirmation of Gina Lopez as Secretary of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

To his credit, President Duterte has supported Gina Lopez and said to the mining industry recently, “The problem is, I saw denuded mountains, until now, the holes you have dug there are deep because it’s an open pit. If that’s the case, I have to support Lopez. And I cannot help you.”

Duterte said, in an apparent address to the industry: “If you have something in mind about Gina Lopez, kindly rethink. And look at her passion for (protecting the environment.”

It is extremely important to implement the agenda of Secretary Gina Lopez. The destruction is growing as the mining industry has expanded and is running wild after the repeal of the strict mining control law. The passing of a new law in 1995 is very beneficial to the mining corporations and their foreign partners. Lopez has said it is an unfair law and hurts people and the environment. “We have to change that,” she says, adding that the 1995 law is “skewed towards the mining sector, and not towards our people.”

Her concern is also for the people affected badly by the mining industry. The loss of crops, changed environment, the forced evacuations, and floods, landslides and pollution had caused much human suffering. Many thousands have been forced from their ancestral lands and domains at gunpoint.

“You cannot build an economy, a company based on suffering. I will not allow it to happen in DENR,” she said. “We will never, ever do anything that will put at risk the lives of our people. Their lives are paramount. “We are an island ecosystem. It’s my determination and commitment that people living in these islands should not suffer.”

The Commission on Appointment, composed of senators and congressmen, has once again refused to confirm the appointment of Gina Lopez as Secretary of the DENR. San Juan City Representative and vice chairman of the CA has a brother who owns one of the biggest mining corporations in Asia.

Other government figures who have investments in mining or their friends are strongly opposed to the actions of Secretary Lopez. The ruling oligarchy makes laws that directly benefit them personally. The mining law is a classical example. They also have the positions in government to defeat and negate any true-minded and dedicated reformer. If they are challenged they make false charges against critics.

Even if the Filipinos’ lands, environment, and the ancestral domains of the indigenous people are taken and destroyed, it will not stop the corrupt oligarchy, which is without an environmental conscience. The champion of the poor and the environment is Gina Lopez, worthy of all our support.

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