Philippine lawmakers oust anti-mining Environment Secretary
Philippine Environment Secretary Regina Lopez was ousted by lawmakers, ending her controversial 10-month run in the position that included a mining crackdown and orders to halt more than half of the mining operations in the country.
Reuters reported that the rejection of Lopez by the Commission on Appointments is final and a mining lobby group immediately said it would seek a reversal of her measures, while President Rodrigo Duterte's office said he would respect the decision.
Lopez characterized her campaign against mining as a humanitarian and environmental effort.
The 63-year-old daughter of a media mogul who left her privileged Philippine life behind when she was a teenager, had ordered the closure of 22 of the mines in the world's top nickel ore supplier ordered the ban openpit mining.
"It is the constitutional right of every Filipino to a clean and healthy environment. It was a dream and a promise we had for the country and it is unfortunate that business interests have in fact run the day," said Lopez.
Duterte picked Lopez because of her record as an activist dedicated to the poor, whose previous initiatives had included reforestation, safeguarding areas of biodiversity and cleaning up the Pasig River that flows through Manila.
News of her removal led to a slump of more than 2 percent in nickel futures on the London Metal Exchange, with traders saying that suspended nickel mines could be reopened.
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines said it would seek to undo Lopez's moves when a new minister was appointed.
“Those have no legal foundation,” Chamber spokesman Ronald Recidoro said. “There were no proper consultations held. And more importantly it's really out to kill the mining industry.”
Lopez has become the bane of big mining companies, accusing them of earning “blood money,” while contributing little in tax.
She ordered the closure of 22 of 41 operating mines in February and canceled dozens of contracts for undeveloped mines in the fifth-most-mineralized country in the world.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel said Lopez’s removal was a lost opportunity and told Reuters he hoped her replacement will "have some of her characteristics and passion."
Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said no replacement had been lined up yet, but did not rule out the possibility of another role for Lopez in the administration.
Confirmation hearings in the Philippines often take place long after ministers start work on their portfolios, Reuters reported.