WE HAVE been taken for a ride, and Gina Lopez’s alta de sociedad smirk betrays all that. The howl of protest following the Commission of Appointment’s rejection of the DENR secretary’s confirmation also relays that the Filipino public is not be taken for fools. Somebody dropped the ball in a rare chance to reverse the environmental plunder that is the cause of so much suffering for many of our people, and the stench leads from Batasan all the way to Malacanang.
The touted supermajority in both houses of congress, instead of supporting the president’s appointee, swerved to do exactly the opposite. The numbers in the voting reveal as much. All the congressmen voted against the secretary’s confirmation including known political allies in the Senate. Ironically, it was the president’s political enemies who turned out to solidly stand behind the beleaguered secretary.
Among the growing list of what seems to be a relentless and frustrating process of diminished returns after the euphoria of electing a maverick and self-ascribed leftist president into office, the orchestrated removal of the brave DENR secretary may turn out to be his administration’s biggest blunder as of yet. It is the veritable proof to the convincing argument that the erstwhile promise of change folds ever so meekly before the formidable power and influence of those who profit from the economy – big business and corporations.
These things do not happen in a democracy, as the Palace apologist tried to reason out, hours after the fateful voting. What is clear is that the order to vote against the secretary’s confirmation came from the higher echelons or at least would not have materialized without the go-signal of the president. It seems that the deal has been struck long before in the backrooms of the corridors of power to appease powerful mining interests.
What did Secretary Lopez accomplish in the short span of time that she was at the helm and enjoyed the confidence of the president? She shut down 23 mining operations, cancelled 75 mining contracts, and with her no-nonsense and colorful personality, effectively delivered the message to big mining that their days of unbridled plunder of the national patrimony are over. As an alter-ego of the president, she was the perfect vehicle to deliver his principal’s supposed strong message against destructive mining and her removal from office indicates a softening of that stance in betrayal of the electoral agenda that catapulted him to office.
Among the various cabinet members of this administration, she, together with a handful of others, were able to capture the public’s imagination and had a growing mass of supporters from either side of the political divide. While her detractors painstakingly painted her as a kooky tree-hugger in an unsuccessful misogynistic bid to attack her person, she was able to endear herself nevertheless to the Filipino public. She is now an admired public persona and will continue to be influential politically in the coming years if she maintains her uncompromising stance.
But it is her swansong in a press conference, after it was announced that she failed to get the commission’s nod, which drives home the point about the opportunity we have lost and what dangerous times we are back to again. She passionately explained: “Who suffers if you kill the environment? It’s the poor. And whose duty is it to protect our people? It’s the government. And when you make decisions based on business interests, you have shirked your responsibility. You have lost the moral ascendancy to rule the government because, to you, business and money is more important than the welfare of our people.”
Her removal from office is a strong indictment about the troubling anti-people direction that the Duterte administration seems to be taking. It delivers the message that big mining is back with a vengeance and that similar interests can force or buy their way with this government. Where is the much vaunted change in this state-of-affairs? It seems that we are headed to more of the same.
The Duterte administration so far has enjoyed high public esteem in the first few months in office. But such public support is not inexhaustible. The excesses of the drug war have slowly chipped away its base among many urban communities. The much-needed socio-economic reforms are still hostaged by the imposed barriers to the peace talks. The removal of the idealistic and uncompromising environment secretary adds up to the snowball of disappointment building up among the frustrated public. This administration should be warned. The wrath of an indignant public is sure to follow these betrayals.
Published in the SunStar Cagayan de Oro newspaper on May 05, 2017.