Serious misgivings about new Philippine environment chief

Various groups have said appointment of former general is tantamount to intensified plunder of the country
Serious misgivings about new Philippine environment chief

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte administers the oath of office for Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu (left) on Oct. 4 after his appointment in May. (Photo by Robinson Ninal)

Various environmental and church groups in the Philippines are protesting the appointment of former military man Roy Cimatu as head of the country's environment department.

Aside from the former general's failure to clarify his environmental policy statement, the green activists accused Cimatu of disregarding his predecessors "achievements."

Environment groups had lauded former environment chief Regina Lopez for closing or suspending several mining operations in the country.

Cimatu, however, blamed the absence of a law that governs the open-pit mining technique for the closure of more than half of the country's mines.

The new environment chief said he is studying whether to support or not the plan to ban open-pit mining techniques in the country.

"There is an order from the president [Rodrigo Duterte] to ban open pit-mining and we will abide with the instruction of the president," he said.

Cimatu said he is awaiting the result of a study being done by the Mining Industry Coordinating Council before announcing the policy direction of his department.

Various groups said the appointment of Cimatu "is tantamount to intensified plunder" of the country.

Father Raymond Montero Ambray from Tandag Diocese in the southern Philippines said the military man's appointment was "adding double insult to injury" after Lopez's removal from office.

"We are going back to where we started. The government is disregarding all the victories that the people attain in Lopez's administration," said the priest.

The Philippine-Misereor Partnership Incorporated said Cimatu's appointment raised "serious doubts and concerns" on the sincerity of Duterte to stop "destructive extraction" of natural resources.

"Duterte's militarized bureaucracy would only serve the interest of the capitalists," said Pastor Pio Mercado of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.

Father Ambray also expressed concern over the "massive and intensified military operations" in areas eyed for mining operations.

"[Cimatu] can use his skills not on protecting our common home from destruction but on how to drive away the indigenous people from their ancestral lands," said the priest.

In July, some at least 2,000 tribal people from the hinterlands of Lianga town in Surigao del Sur province fled their homes following military operations against communist rebels in the area.

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The tribal communities stand in the middle of the 60,000-hectare Andap valley complex, which is subject to mining exploration.

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