Her crusade against mining in the Philippines may have been short-lived, but the shock waves caused by now-ousted acting environment secretary Regina Lopez have not died down.
The well-known environmental activist appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte in June 2016 caused an uproar in the country’s mining industry after, within 10 months of her tenure, she ordered operations be shut down at 28 of the Philippines’ 41 metallic mines, cancelled 75 contracts and banned open-pit mining.
But the orders proved too radical as a panel of lawmakers, tasked with reviewing Duterte’s appointments, voted in May to reject Lopez.
“We planned many things,” Lopez told media after the vote against her confirmation, according to the New York Times. “What a waste. Everyone would have benefited from the management and care of the environment.”
Nineteen of the mines singled out by Lopez in February over risks of contamination to watersheds produced 49 per cent of the Philippines’ total nickel production in 2016, according to a special report in Scotiabank’s commodity price index published in March. Since Indonesia banned exports of unprocessed nickel in 2014, the Philippines has been the largest global supplier of nickel.
No mine has been closed yet; companies appealed the closures to Duterte, a process that stays the orders and allows mines to continue operating until a decision is made, according to Ronald Recidoro, vice-president of legal and policy for the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines.
Lopez’s successor, ex-military chief Roy Cimatu, has signalled a softer stance on the industry, “which is a very marked departure from what Lopez had been saying,” Recidoro said. “But we don’t know whether that positivity will translate into repeals or reversals of previous orders,” he said. “[Cimatu] really does not have a background in environmental protection or in natural resource development so he’s really still on a very steep learning curve.”
The Chamber was highly critical of Lopez while she was in office. “Very few people appreciate what we do and what we contribute to the economy. It does not help that our supposed champion […] paints the mining industry as environmental rapists that just take what they want and leave nothing but suffering and destruction in their wake,” read a recent scathing public statement.
Lopez did enjoy the ardent support of various environmental groups and advocates who had pushed for her confirmation. Now, they are urging Cimatu not to reverse her bold positions.