Duterte replaces Gina Lopez, ex-AFP chief Roy Cimatu is new DENR secretary

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Photo of newly appointed DENR chief Roy Cimatu with President Rodrigo Duterte and Department of Health chief Paulyn Ubial during a Cabinet meeting at the Palace on Monday, May 8, 2017. From Facebook page of Department of Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte announced on Monday during a Cabinet meeting that retired general Roy Cimatu, currently the special envoy for OFW refugees, would take the place of Gina Lopez as chief of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

“We are confident that Secretary Cimatu shall faithfully serve the interest of the country and the Filipino people in his capacity as the new DENR Secretary,” said presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella.

Cimatu is a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1970. He was chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) from May to September 2002 during the Arroyo administration.

After retiring from the AFP, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appointed him as special envoy to the Middle East with a title of ambassador. Last April, Duterte appointed Cimatu as special ambassador for overseas Filipino worker-refugees.

Duterte announced Cimatu’s latest appointment while Lopez’s supporters were holding a rally in Manila on Monday urging the President to re-appoint the DENR chief, who was ousted last week by the Commission on Appointments.

Earlier in the day, members of environmental group Greenpeace blocked the gates of the DENR head office on Visayas Avenue in Quezon City. The group said Lopez’s appointment last year “represents the electoral agenda of various organizations including Greenpeace clamoring for the integration of environmental programs in all presidential candidates’ platform.”

The organization claimed that CA’s rejection of Lopez’s appointment “is a manifestation of the continued control of the Philippine government by big business interests, and as a failure of the current administration to stand by the reforms it is pursuing.”

Cimatu appointment opposed: ‘No track record in defending environment’

Meanwhile, environmental group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) rejected Cimatu’s appointment and claimed that “Duterte has clearly erred in” appointing the former AFP chief as head of the DENR.

“A military man in the DENR’s helm would betray the people’s longstanding clamor for social justice and environmental protection,” the group said.

“We urge Duterte to reconsider this decision, as Cimatu has virtually no track record on addressing environmental issues and instead has a record of defending environmental plunderers and engaging in corruption,” it said.

According to Kalikasan-PNE, in 1994, Cimatu, then a colonel commanding the 603rd Brigade of the Philippine Army, created the Task Force Lumad composed of personnel from the 641st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, the Davao del Norte Provincial Police Command, and other government units to guard the Alsons logging tenement and train CAFGU paramilitaries also to protect the logging area.

This, the group said, was in response to the pangayaw or tribal declaration of armed defense by Ata-Manobo leaders of the indigenous organization Salugpungan against the massive logging operations of the Alsons company owned by the powerful Alcantara clan in Mindanao, which “not surprisingly is also where Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez has worked for the longest time.”

It said the former AFP chief was also linked to the 2011 AFP ‘pabaon’ corruption scandal where retiring chiefs of staff were given hefty ‘send-off money’ running in the millions, with Cimatu allegedly receiving P80 million.

“It is unacceptable that a conduit of corruption will be reintroduced into an agency where billions of pesos worth of natural wealth are regularly transacted,” said Kalikasan-PNE

“Duterte does not need a military man in the DENR to enforce his promise of a crackdown on destructive big mines and logging operations. Case in point, irresponsible miners and loggers flourished and corruption in the DENR transpired during the tenure of former DENR Sec. Angelo Reyes, also an AFP chief of staff, from 2006 to 2007,” it said.

The group said that if Duterte is true to his promise that change is coming, “he could have defied mining oligarchs by still reappointing Gina Lopez as environment secretary.”

“Duterte could have appointed other deserving pro-people, pro-environment figures who will surely go above and beyond the standards of environmental leadership that Lopez demonstrated, such as progressive stalwarts Luz Ilagan and Neri Colmenares,” it added.