Activist to join Duterte cabinet

Environmentalist Gina Lopez. Source: Flickr

The Philippines’ president-elect, Rodrigo Duterte, has threatened to cancel mining projects that cause environmental damage after an anti-mining activist accepted his offer to head the agency overseeing the archipelago’s natural resources.

Environment campaigner Gina Lopez said she had accepted the 71-year-old’s offer to be the secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

An outspoken opponent of mining, Lopez  said it brought suffering to the poor and destroyed the environment, while welcoming the news that mining shares “crashed” after Duterte offered her the job.
“That’s good because they are making money out of the suffering of the people. You don’t want to build an economy based on the suffering of the people. That’s what mining does. It puts our fishermen and farmers at risk and I’ve seen it. I know it. And I’ve been there. Is that the kind of economy that you want to build? It’s just not right,” said the sister of media conglomerate ABS-CBN Corp chairman Eugenio Lopez.

While advocating sustainable development, she said mining damaged the climate and that the Philippines was particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels.

“While China has closed all their coal plants, well about 100, and America closed all of theirs, we come up with 118 permits. I mean, what’s that all about?” Lopez asked.

The Philippines has among the region’s largest untapped mineral resources. However, opposition from the Catholic church, the anti-mining lobby and with large areas left unstable by ongoing insurgencies have prevented several projects from getting started, including the US$5.9-billion gold-copper Tampakan project on Mindanao, which dates back to 1991.

“There will be a comprehensive review of the mining claims of concessions given,” Duterte told a gathering in Davao, where he was mayor for more than 20 years.

“I will require you to go to Canada or Australia, learn how to mine the precious metals inside the bowels of the earth and do it. Because … [if] you are spoiling the land, I will cancel it without hesitation.”

Duterte has spoken about irresponsible mining operations that damage the environment.

He takes office on June 30.

Duterte earlier this month warned mining firms to “shape up”, adding that he would rather Philippine companies were awarded contracts.

Swiss commodities giant Glencore abandoned the Tampakan project last year, when the operation was halted by a 2010 ban on open-pit mining in Mindanao’s South Cotabato province. A Philippine firm has since taken over the potentially lucrative site.