BAGUIO CITY — President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday said he is willing to let go of the P70 billion government earnings from mining operations and keep Gina Lopez as his environment secretary.
"We can live without it. I would rather follow Gina. Maghanap-buhay na lang tayo ng iba, get the P70 billion somewhere else and preserve the environment. 'Wag na tayong magbolahan," Duterte said in a speech during the launching of PTV Cordillera Hub.
He said that by riding a low-flying aircraft, he saw the destruction brought about by mining operations in some areas.
"The problem is nakita ko ang kalbo until now, malayo na iyang binutas ninyo diyan because it's an open pit. Pagka ganoon, I have to support Lopez and I cannot help you. Let me just add that all you contribute to the country is about P70 billion in taxes," he said.
The President also could not help but curse at mining companies.
"Huwag na tayong magbolahan. Kung ikaw, wala ka sa mining tapos titingnan mo mag m***** i** ka. P***** i** ninyo, anong ginagawa ninyo?" he said.
"Ilan years lang kayo diyan tapos wala pa akong nakitang green... Lagyan mo ng kahoy ngayon ito. You just cannot say go to court that’s illegal, no," he added.
Duterte stressed that his work as the President is anchored on public interest.
In August 2016, he said that the Philippines can survive without mining companies.
Follow the law
In ambush interview after his speech, Duterte clarified that the government does not intend the close the mining industry.
"We do not intend to close the mining industry. It's well-nigh impossible because there is a law governing the operations of mining. Pagka may batas, ibig sabihin, you allow it. Otherwise, you want to do away with mining altogether, you have to abrogate the law or modify it to something else," he said.
The President said that he just wanted the mining companies to comply with the laws.
"The fait accompli diyan is you have to do the works that Gina wants and she will reconsider her decision. But one thing is very clear: Gina has passion for it and she wants compliance. She never said that she is going to close permanently the mining companies. So ayusin mo lang in accordance with the law," he said.
"It is not Gina imposing the rules and regulations. It is the law of the environment, the need for the moment to improve everything here. Ako, I cannot compromise the environment. That's very clear. So I am with Gina because I want to protect the Filipino people," he added.
While Duterte said that the government would assist those who would lose their jobs because of mining closures and suspensions, he called on the mining industry to share their profits to the workers.
"I am ready to extend financial help to those who are displaced doon sa temporary closure... All they have to do is go to the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) and get the rasyon or anong... Pero may pera ako sa pagkain. May pera ako sa pagkain galing sa Pagcor (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation) iyon," he said.
"But I urge the mining companies to do the same. Tutal, yumaman na kayo. Bilyun-bilyon na ang kinita n'yo sa bayan in the bowels of the earth. Wala na kayo. You better release some of your profits in the previous years and give it to the workers or maybe mag-init ang ulo ni Gina, sasakay ako, then, I will close you permanently," he added.
Look at Gina's passion
In his speech, he also urged those who have misgivings against Lopez for her tough stance against destructive mining operations.
"If you have something in mind about Gina Lopez, kindly rethink. And think… look at her passion. Maybe a little bit of hindi umaano masyado but you know, tingnan mo ‘yang mining talaga. The ricefields that are crushed by a landslide and the waters that are contaminated," Duterte said.
The President continued to defend Lopez during his media interview.
"We protect public interest no matter who gets hurt and that's what Gina is doing. She's not really concerned of who owns it. She is not interested in their money. And she's just doing it the way a Cabinet member should do and that is iyong trabaho," he said.
Sen. Manny Pacquiao, an ally of Duterte in the Senate, had said that Lopez's appointment will "definitely" be bypassed by the Commission on Appointments (CA).
Pacquiao is the chairman of the CA committee on environment, which heard 23 oppositors against the appointment of Lopez in just two hearings.
Duterte can still reappoint Lopez if the CA would bypass her confirmation.
Lopez's nomination has been met by strong opposition due to her tough stand against mining. Last month, she ordered the closure of 23 mines following a review, prompting Malacañang to intervene.
The CA committee will hold on Tuesday, March 14, a caucus, to discuss Lopez’s nomination as environment secretary.
During last week's CA hearing, Lopez confronted one of the members of the body -- San Juan City Rep. Ronaldo Zamora -- whose brother is the chairman Nickel Asia Corp. —ALG, GMA News