THE Commission on Appointments (CA) did not prefer the milder approach of bypassing for the second time the appointment of Gina Lopez as Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) secretary. In what was considered a rare act, majority of the CA members chose to reject Lopez’s appointment. Meaning that she is following ex-foreign affairs secretary Perfecto Yasay—out of the Cabinet.
Lopez’s confirmation became an uphill climb (despite her getting the support of President Rodrigo Duterte, who reappointed her after the CA bypassed her confirmation weeks ago) since she ordered the closure of 23 mines and the suspension of five others for violation of environmental laws. A powerful lobby to reject her appointment surfaced, no doubt backed by money from big mining firms.
Lopez is an environmental activist, but in the few months of her stint as DENR secretary, she “out-radicaled” with her policies militant colleagues like Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Judy Taguiwalo and Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael Mariano. In a way, one can describe Lopez as reckless at times, but considering the rape of our natural resources by big capital, recklessness can be a virtue in certain instances.
Why do you think Lopez caught the imagination not only of environmentalists but also of concerned Filipinos? Because before her, no environment secretary dared to challenge the manner big mining firms have been exploiting and oppressing our natural and human resources. Or should we say no politician did. In a way, credit can also be given to President Duterte for appointing Lopez and standing by her.
Which brings me to the future of what I would call the “Duterte experiment,” which is to push what is acceptable in governance beyond its previous bounds. No president before Duterte, for example, appointed to the Cabinet openly radical personalities like Taguiwalo and Mariano and, to a certain extent, Lopez. Many militants like, say, Gabriela’s Liza Maza are in the Duterte administration.
But the CA rejection of Lopez’s appointment could signal the purging of what the conservatives in our midst surely consider an anomalous setup. Next to Lopez, I think Mariano also worries the ruling elite, specifically the landlords, considering his radical stance on land reform. Taguiwalo’s no-nonsense posture, meanwhile, worries politicians. Will they be the next to get the ax?
This reminds me of an analogy about rampaging flood water. It changes the landscape along its way, but once the water finds its own level, its energy dissipates and it settles back down and normalizes. Duterte’s win in last year’s presidential elections brought drastic changes in the way Malacañang is being run. But it looks like defenders of the status quo are hitting back.
The CA rejection of Lopez’s appointment could signal the start the process of “normalization” in governance as far as the Duterte administration is concerned. Consider the vow by the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines to reverse Lopez’s orders. For the ruling elite, it seems like happy days will soon be back.
Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on May 04, 2017.
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