Father Pete Montallana (right), a Franciscan who heads the Save Sierra Madre Network Alliance, joins environmental activists in questioning the appointment of a former general as head of the Philippine Environment Department. (Photo by Mike Taboy)
Green activists in the Philippines challenged the country's new Environmental chief, a former general, to maintain reforms initiated by his predecessor, a green activist.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has named former military chief Roy Cimatu head of the department, replacing Regina Paz Lopez who failed to get congressional confirmation.
"We warn Cimatu against reversing the decision of former secretary Lopez on the suspended and closed mines," read a statement of the Green Thumb Coalition.
The alliance of civil society and environmental groups expressed its disappointment at the president's decision not to re-appoint Lopez.
Lopez closed more than half of the country's mines during her short term as head of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
In its statement, the Green Thumb Coalition urged Cimatu to uncover alleged corruption in the department and the reported influence of mining companies in the government.
Cimatu admitted that being Environment Secretary is a completely different field. "Here I am wading into a field far removed from soldiery," he said.
He called for "solidarity" in protecting the environment, saying that, "we're all in this together."
"I cannot do this alone, President Duterte cannot do this alone. We need all hands on deck," said the former general as he vowed to promote the "wise and proper use" of the country's natural resources.
He vowed to "protect the environment and safeguard mining laws, that they will be and should be implemented."
Cimatu said he is an advocate of "responsible mining," a statement that was met with criticism by various groups.
Father Pete Montallana, a Franciscan who heads the Save Sierra Madre Network Alliance, said his group will "engage" with Cimatu.
The priest also expressed his disappointment over the Duterte administration's position on mining "and the oligarchs who use the environment to stay in power."
"We will continue to fight for the poor and the environment with or against the Duterte administration," said the environmental activist priest.
Zaira Baniaga of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice, meanwhile, warned the new Environment Secretary to be "careful in categorically declaring that environmental protection can go hand-in-hand with the myth of responsible mining."
Baniaga said Cimatu "should not simply swallow hook, line and sinker this sales pitch of the mining industry," adding that he should instead take a "default position of bias for the poor communities and protection of natural resources and promote social justice."