DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Indigenous peoples groups in Mindanao salute the late former environment secretary Gina Lopez as a “rare ally” in their struggle to protect the ancestral land from mining and other destructive activities.
Lopez, a long-time environment advocate, was President Duterte’s first environment secretary from June 2016 to May 2017.
The group Sandugo Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self Determination, recalled Lopez acted “with urgency against large-scale exploitative and destructive mining.”
During her stint as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Lopez ordered the closure or suspension of several large-scale mining operations due to reported environment violations. She also canceled 75 mining agreements, 37 of which are in Mindanao.
“She helped raise into public consciousness the idea that environmental advocacy is not merely the preservation of mountains and forests, but also tipping the scales of social justice in favor of the marginalized. She understood that the business of extracting wealth is complicit in the uneven distribution of it,” the group said.
Lopez’ uncompromising stand against large-scale mining earned the ire of mining companies.
This also was a reason why Lopez failed to get the confirmation from the Congress’ Commission on Appointment for her position, as some believed mining lobbyists in Congress tipped the decision.
“Clearly business interests have run the day,” Lopez said after her rejection.
For that, Sandugo said Lopez was a “rare ally” in government.
“Generations of indigenous peoples have defended ancestral lands against the encroachment of large-scale mines and other forms of development aggression, but the concentrated power, wealth, and resources of big business and their allied politicians have made it an uphill struggle,” the group said.
The spokesperson of Pasaka Confederation of Lumad Organizations in Southern Mindanao, Jong Monzon, salute Lopez for her being “sincere” to face them to hear their plight.
Monzon said Lopez met with Lumad leaders from Mindanao during their Manilakbayan in 2016, where they raised their complaints of mining companies and military personnel displacing them from their ancestral lands.
Lopez also visited the sanctuary of the Talaingod and Kapalong Manobo evacuees in UCCP Haran in Davao City last August 2016 and talked with the tribal leaders.
Monzon remembered Lopez saying the government should apologize to the Lumad for allowing this to happen.
“Miss Lopez can rest assured that we will continue to protect the environment through the unity of the indigenous peoples to remove large scale mining in our communities,” said Monzon. (davaotoday.com)