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Bishops back appointment of Philippine's chief eco-warrior

Three more prelates add to petitions calling for anti-mining minister Regina Lopez to be confirmed by Congress

Bishops back appointment of Philippine's chief eco-warrior

Philippine Environment Secretary Regina Lopez speaks before supporters, composed mostly of environment activists and church groups, outside the Philippine Senate. (Photo by Angie de Silva)


Elmer Recuerdo, Manila

March 10, 2017

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More Catholic bishops in the Philippines have joined calls for the confirmation of the appointment of an anti-mining advocate as the country's head of the Environment and Natural Resources Department.

A resolution signed by three bishops in Samar province this week was the latest addition to petitions calling for the appointment of Regina Lopez, a known green activist.

Bishops Isabelo Abarquez Calbayog, Crispin Varquez of Borongan, and Emmanuel Trance of Catarman noted that Lopez "has responded to the call of the people, especially communities affected by mining and logging."

President Rodrigo Duterte named Lopez as head of the department last year but a commission composed of legislators from both Houses of Congress needs to confirm the appointment.

Environmental activists were also vocal in their support for Lopez.

Greenpeace Philippines expressed hope that Lopez’s "focus and political will would extend as well to other urgent environmental issues, such as stopping the proliferation of coal."

"Her non-confirmation may put a halt to the progress and achievements already being made by the department that we have not seen since it was first created," said the group.

Rebecca Destajo, spokeswoman of the group Protect Manicani Society, lauded the secretary for her "strong resolve in protecting the environment and the people."

In recent months, Lopez has ordered the closure of at least 28 mining operations in the Philippines despite protests from the mining sector.

In a statement, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines stood firm in its decision to oppose the confirmation of Lopez.

"We are dealing with someone who does not believe in the Constitution’s mandate for the state to undertake the exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources, and as such, has put us, the government’s partners in minerals development, at a quandary," read the chamber's statement.

Ronald Recidoro, vice president of the influential organization, said Lopez is painting the mining industry as an "environmental rapist" that just takes what it wants and leaves nothing but suffering and destruction.

"Lopez is oblivious to the fact that the first ones to suffer from the closures will be the miners and the small businesses working with these mines," said Recidoro.

But Father Edwin Gariguez, head of the social action secretariat of the bishops' conference, said Lopez has, since taking office, introduced "stronger biodiversity protection programs." 

He said Catholic bishops have mobilized their social action centers in dioceses around the country to urge legislators to support Lopez's appointment.

"We urge them to protect the poor from further exploitation by putting the right person in the ministry who can force the industry to do things differently and responsibly," said Father Gariguez.


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