Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 25 June 2016


The appointment of Gina Lopez as head of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, a position that President-elect Rodrigo Duterte had intended for himself, at least in the beginning, was like an earthquake that rocked Big Mining and sent the value of mining stocks plummeting. But for me, Duterte must be congratulated for his decision. He has put the DENR in the hands of an environmentalist and committed natural resources conservator, who cannot be manipulated and bribed, and who will do what is best for the Philippines, not only for a particular sector. My gut feel is that at the end of the day, she will leave the Philippines better off, rather than worse off, as far as this area is concerned.

Already, there seem to be some efforts to destroy her reputation and her credibility, to the President-elect and to the public. Her detractors are trying to package her as an empty-headed, wealthy socialite who dabbles in these issues for lack of anything to do, and who doesn’t know what she is talking about.

Well, Gina’s record speaks for itself: She is at the forefront of the campaign to save the Pasig River, she has flown all over the Philippines to take videos of (a picture is worth a thousand words) and interview residents about the damage to the environment that has occurred in their areas as a result of mining activities. She has done this for at least 10 years—and she very assiduously does the homework.

If the story is told to show how impulsive Duterte is, so be it. In this case, it is a good decision. Under Gina’s leadership, the DENR will never be in danger of being “captured” by vested interests. Hallelujah. One for Duterte.

The designation of Gina also raises a question: With the members having such disparate backgrounds and advocacies, even ideologies, how can Duterte make that Cabinet work? We can look at it another way. It is a courageous move on his part to bring together such a Cabinet—the members all his personal choices. If he can make that Cabinet work together, he can make the country work together. And I am praying for him to succeed.

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But just when Duterte shows some inspired choices, it seems he puts his foot in his mouth again, if the newspaper reports are accurate. He says he will certainly not go to war with China over a “little issue”—the little issue being Scarborough Shoal. Good grief. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio must have shot out of his seat when he read the morning papers. Duterte should ask him for a briefing, as he (Carpio) is the acknowledged expert.

In the first place, ownership of that little stone implies sovereignty over a radius of 12 nautical miles—maybe even 200, depending on what the decision is. So it is not a little issue, it is a big deal. Let me just quote from a paper titled “A Whole of a Nation’s Support on West Philippine Sea: A Call for Action”:

“Economically, 20 percent of the country’s fisheries catch is coming from the WPS. The WPS rich in fossil fuels accounts for 11 billion barrels of oil, 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and in addition to the unexplored areas that can potentially hold more oil and gas reserves, has an estimated value of energy reserves as high as $1 trillion. Thus, our present and future economic survival largely depends on the sustainable managed utilization of these marine resources in the WPS, which is under threat from poaching and use of illegal and destructive fishing practices and the recently significant reclamations of the Chinese Government.” In other words, it is not only a big deal, it is a very big deal.

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My final comments are not on Duterte, but on the issue of the statement of campaign expenses (Soce). The Commission on Elections is under fire, especially from  presumptive House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez. Something about favoring the Liberal Party for allowing it an extension on the submission of its Soce.

I have no particular respect for the Comelec, but the charge of bias for the LP is ridiculous.  Didn’t the Comelec allow Duterte to run, in spite of questions about candidate substitution and erroneous applications? How can that be bias for the LP? Has Alvarez forgotten so soon?

The Comelec decision to allow the extension was a tight one—4 to 3, the minority composed of Chair Andy Bautista, and Commissioners Christian Lim and Luie Guia (I have known Guia for more than 20 years and will vouch for his integrity any time).

The decision to extend the deadline was based on the fact that otherwise, 115 elected candidates (including the Vice President) would not be able to assume office. And the perfectly valid point was: Why penalize these candidates, and the people who elected them, for what the party did? The candidates, after all, had submitted their list of campaign expenditures. Also, let us admit that in the Philippines, “political parties” are a joke.

But what was the point of the three-member minority? Well, it seems they wanted to strictly adhere to the “dura lex, sed lex” (the law is harsh, but it is the law) principle. They were sick and tired, I think, of the Comelec not being taken seriously. They have a point, too. I also agree. But did they have to choose this (obviously unfair) provision on which to take their stand? It is a case of being right for the wrong reason, it seems.