Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 5 May 2017


This column poses three questions and makes two comments and one suggestion involving the Commission on Appointments’ recent rejection of Gina Lopez as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Let’s start with the questions:

On President Duterte: He was extremely supportive of Gina, critical of the mining industry and its faults, and willing to go down to the wire with her. Yet, his vice-presidential running mate Alan Peter Cayetano, who is known as his alter ego in the Senate, saw fit to criticize Gina in the last confirmation hearings.

Mixed signals. Then, when she was rejected, he washed his hands of the whole thing (Pilate-like), saying that lobby money could have been involved and he was, in effect, helpless to do anything about it since we are a democracy. To top it all, he never called her, to commiserate, at least up to 36 hours after the fact.

Question 1: Who believes that the President was helpless?

On Rep. Ronnie Zamora: He is vice chair of the Commission on Appointments. His family is heavily into mining: Most of its money comes from the industry (just one, Nickel Asia Corp. is worth P50 billion). Surely the money helps in his campaign expenses. So one would think that when it comes to issues that involve mining, he would recuse himself—because of possible conflict of interest. A matter of delicadeza.

That didn’t happen. And reportedly, he was working tirelessly behind the scene and in front, for Gina’s rejection. With an impunity that is illustrated by the saying “What are we in power for?” and with other “leaders” that work for their personal interests and to hell with what happens to the country.

Question 2: Who believes that Ronnie Zamora has no interest in mining?

On the Commission on Appointments as a whole, and secret balloting: Apparently, the secret balloting is a newbie, if we are to go by the word of a legislator who has been a member of the commission in several administrations. The practice started only with Perfecto Yasay Jr., Mr. Duterte’s nominee as foreign secretary. Gina, from the grapevine, expected to be confirmed, though just barely. What was the basis of her expectation? How about a nose count, based on one-on-one interviews?

One guesses that some of these members didn’t have the courage of their convictions. Moreover, the odor of mendacity is strong. Because there were nine who declared that they had voted for Gina. But according to the commission’s chair, the vote was 16 against and 8 in favor. Jeez. They ask for secret balloting to protect themselves, and then they lie about who they voted for.

Question 3:  What does this indicate about the integrity of our legislators?

Now for my comments:

  1. Here was Gina Lopez, a Cabinet member who couldn’t be bought, couldn’t be intimidated, and would give up her position rather than sacrifice her principles. In other words, she had integrity. That could be dangerous, because interest groups (legislators, business) had no leverage over her. To top it all, she had no other agenda except to save the environment and help the poor. What do you do with someone like that? Kick her out, of course. Her example might be contagious, after all. So the country and the people lost, big time.
  1. Sen. Leila de Lima’s public reaction to Gina’s rejection is, for me, the best, because it captures the essence of what we have lost: She was the right person for the job, and President Duterte made the right choice. Then he flubbed it. The wave of support and sympathy she has received shows that she was doing the right thing. A friend of mine said: She is the only oligarch who is loved by the people, because she is for them.

And finally my suggestion, the logical upshot of all the foregoing: President Duterte didn’t want to interfere with Congress? Fine. But he knows Gina has done an excellent job. So what’s the win-win? He should take over the DENR, which is what he had intended to do before Gina, and then appoint her as his senior undersecretary.  That way, she doesn’t have to pass the Commission on Appointments. That way, the commission doesn’t lose face. But the most important is, that way, the country wins. How about it, Mr. President?