Philippines shows anti-mining environment minister the door

President Rodrigo Duterte waits for the August 2016 summit to start with Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) President Fr. Joel Tabora SJ (left), and Environment Secretary Regina Lopez (right). (Image: Wikimedia Commons.)

The Philippines Congress forced Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez from her job Wednesday following mounting complaints from pro-mining groups hurt by her several measures aimed at decreasing the extraction of riches in the country to reduce environmental damage.

The lawmakers’ move comes only days after she toughened up her already hard-core stance on mining by banning open-pit operations.

During her 10-month tenure, Regina Lopez shut 28 of the country’s 41 mines, which is equivalent to 50% of the Philippines’ nickel output. 

Since assuming the post in June last year, Lopez — a well-known ecologist — took aim at the mining industry, which she blames for environmental damage.

She began auditing all mining operations in the country shortly after her appointment, accusing miners of violating environmental laws, revoking permits and effectively shutting more than half Philippines’ mines.

“It is the constitutional right of every Filipino to a clean and healthy environment. It was a dream and a promise we had for the country and it is unfortunate that business interests have in fact run the day,” Lopez said, according to Reuters.

The ousted official was championed by environmental activists, religious groups and social justice organizations, some of whom rallied in her support outside the Senate building on Wednesday.

Despite that support and the backing from President Rodrigo Duterte himself, her dismissal is considered to be final as it is unusual for cabinet appointments in the Philippines to be denied confirmation.

“This is not the end, but rather the beginning of a new chapter for the mining industry,” the country’s Chamber of Mines said in a statement.

The Southeast Asian nation is the world’s top nickel ore supplier, so the 10-month crackdown on its mining sector has caused prices of the metal to spike at times. Nickel futures slumped on the London Metal Exchange more than 2% following the news of Lopez’s dismissal.

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