The Bypass Passes the Buck to the President


A bypass is not a knockout.  In the case of a human being, a bypass can save a beating heart.

In this case, the human being was Gina Lopez.  The bypass was saving her heart beating for the Philippine environment – and for the Filipino poor she is convinced the environment should serve.

The bypass in the Commission on Appointments showed that she is not a lawyer, nor a mining engineer.  It showed that she had never entered the technical world of the geodetic scholars from UP.  It showed that her heart does not beat to the rhythms of those who invest big in the stock market, and certainly not of those  foreigners who dazzle the economists with their billions, then exploit and devastate the Philippine environment.

The bypass in the Commission on Appointments allowed that heart to continue beating as it did before she was appointed to the DENR – when everyone applauded her for cleaning up the Pasig river using her own energy and tapped private resources, when everyone recognized her role in restoring the trees and forest essential to Metro Manila’s La Mesa Dam, when environmentalists rallied with her in opposing mining in Palawan in favor of its outstanding biodiversity.  That heart, President Duterte recognized, is the heart of a crusader.  That is why he appointed her his DENR Secretary.  He recognized that her heart beats with the same arrhythmia as his, preferring the welfare of the rural poor and the Lumad over the welfare of the Makati magnates and foreign billionaires.

Such arrhythmia, it is clear, can be life threatening not only to a Secretary, but to a President as well.

The congressional bypass now passes the buck on Gina Lopez back to the President – who had asked the Commission on Appointments to hear Ms. Lopez out.  The pressure from the magnates was also on him.  It was a deft move of the CA that refused to deal the controversial yet popular secretary a death blow.  This secretary, they knew, was not lying.  She was in fact disarmingly simple in inviting the commissioners – even those who ought to have recused themselves from the hearings because of glaring conflicts of interests – to see the truth.  If the Philippine environment was to be saved, it could not be based on the developmental assumptions of the economy that has erstwhile so harmed the environmental and  kept its immediate stakeholders, the poor on the ground, so impoverished.

That was indeed the truth that could not be bypassed.

What was in fact remarkable was the way this so-called environmental crusader had been pursuing her responsibilities in the DENR.  She had not only been busy stopping the illegal logging and illegal mining activities that previous administrations had failed to curb, but paid extraordinary attention to the poor affected by the environment.  Her presentations were of admirable programs based on success stories designed to bring wealth to the poor by involving them in the preservation of the environment.  She was not just a heart bleeding for the environment, but a heart passionate about bringing wealth to the poor in restoring to their economic lives the environment that is first given to them.

Her vision is certainly not illusory.  At an address delivered by the Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua recently at Davao’s Marco Polo he said that he personally commits that the tourists from China in the new friendship forged by between Presidents Duterte and Xi Jinpin shall jump from 600,000 to a million this year, and can actually grow to many more millions annually.  Each tourist spends an average of US$1,800. per trip.  But he asked:  are we ready for this type of tourism?  Are we ready to offer Chinese tourists the accommodations and goods they shall be eager to patronise?  We must be able to offer them more than dried mangoes, he said.  In this context, Sec. Gina’s formula of empowering the local poor to protect the environment for ecotourism and developing them into wealthy tourism entrepreneurs makes economic sense.

Where so much of the conflict in Mindanao has been related to the operation of the mines, it also make sense in the peace process.

So the buck passes to President Duterte, who appoints in a cabinet secretary an alter-ego.  A crusader for the environment is not disqualified for the DENR because she is passionate about saving the Philippine environment, neither is one who thinks differently from the Makati magnates.  A crusader, as Pres. Duterte knows, is not disqualified from public office.  The competency of this crusader is in her heart for the poor.

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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