Lawmakers piqued DENR Secretary’s snub of mining probe

By on February 21, 2017

Department of Environment and Natural Resources Gina Lopez. (PCOO photo)
Department of Environment and Natural Resources Gina Lopez. (PCOO photo)

MANILA—Members of the House committee on ecology expressed displeasure over the failure of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez to attend the panel’s recent motu proprio investigation on the adverse environmental impacts of mining operations in the country, and have moved to send another invitation compelling her to attend the next hearing on March 1.

In a recent hearing, Deputy Speaker and South Cotabato Second District Rep. Ferdinand L. Hernandez moved that committee chairperson Rep. Estrellita B. Suansing (1st District, Nueva Ecija) send a strongly worded letter to Lopez and compel her to attend the next hearing, with a warning for a subpoena if she fails to show up again.

“Since this is not the first time the DENR Secretary did not attend this committee’s hearing, there has to be a strongly worded letter from the chairperson to compel the DENR Secretary to attend the next hearing and a warning for a subpoena if she fails again to attend it,” said Hernandez.

The committee had invited Lopez to its motu proprio investigation, in aid of legislation, on the adverse environmental impacts of mining operations in the country. The committee members were displeased by Lopez’s absence during last week’s hearing and her failure to send a representative.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Director sent a representative in the person of Engr. Rodolfo Velasco, chief of the Mine Safety, Environment and Social Development Division. Velasco said he was a representative of the MGB Director and not the DENR Secretary. He further said their division was in charge of implementing the environmental provisions of the Mining Act.

Rep. Henry S. Oaminal (2nd District, Misamis Occidental) said Velasco was a division chief, not even a director. While Velasco’s capacity and integrity as a division chief was probably exemplary, Oaminal said the committee deserved the attendance of no less than the DENR Secretary or the Undersecretary in charge of mining operations.

Oaminal said among the things he had wanted to know were the mining violations of companies in light of newspaper reports that there were show cause orders, cancellations, and suspensions of mining permits/operations made by the DENR.

Oaminal said he agreed with the statements of Hernandez and Rep. Jose L. Atienza (Party-list, Buhay) that to proceed with the day’s hearing would only be waste of time of lawmakers who had a hectic schedule.

“I therefore move to postpone this hearing and extend another invitation, a diplomatic invitation, to the DENR Secretary that if and when she will still snub it, that may warrant a subpoena,” said Oaminal.

Suansing said there had been three hearings of the committee wherein the DENR Secretary did not attend, despite the panel’s invitation. These were about: the proposed Plastic Products Regulation Act; Mandatory Environment Insurance Coverage; and lately the motu proprio investigation into the adverse impacts of mining operations in the country. Suansing said the funding from the Mandatory Environment Insurance Coverage would go to the DENR.

“DENR, this serves as your warning, inii-snub ninyo kami. A lot of meetings were set for you. We are even passing laws here for your benefit. You’ve been ignoring this committee. This will serve as your warning. Don’t send somebody who cannot answer questions here. Respect the House of Representatives, most especially this committee,” said Suansing.

Atienza asked if the representative from MGB is the director. “We should demand no less. We invited the Secretary,” said Atienza.

Rep. Evelina G. Escudero (1st District, Sorsogon) said she also wanted to request that the DENR Secretary be present especially in the committee’s hearing since the Cabinet official had been in the news the past days about mining permit cancellations.

“I would like to reiterate Rep. Atienza’s statement that if the person present here today would not be able to answer our questions regarding the mining sector, then this is a useless hearing,” said Escudero.