MANILA – Hours before her nomination as Environment secretary was rejected with finality by the Commission on Appointments, Regina Lopez was charged with graft in the Office of the Ombudsman by a mining firm for allegedly inventing new financial burdens outside the mining law and forcing it to transact with a “green” entity linked to a controversial undersecretary.
The case was filed by lawyer Lorna Kapunan on behalf of Citinickel Mines and Development Corp. (CMDC) and is for three counts of violation of the anti-graft and corrupt practices act.
“This is not a pro-mining complaint but this is an anti-corruption complaint against the office of Secretary Lopez,” who, she noted, had once stressed that there is no compromise in the matter of integrity.
According to the complaint, Lopez, despite her avowed intention to clean up the environment and punish those who despoil it, had acted arbitrarily in lumping Citinickel along with those who have violated the law.
“We have to do this because of the abuses being committed by the secretary against Citinickel,” said Kapunan.
“Separation of powers requires that Congress make the laws, the Executive department executes the laws, and the judicial department interprets the laws.” Something is wrong, said Kapunan, “when the Cabinet secretary makes laws, such as what Secretary Gina has done.”
Lopez required Citinickel to deposit P2 million per hectare of alleged disturbed property to form a trust fund, but “there is no basis in law for what she has done,” said Kapunan.
No need for inventing 3rd trust fund
The Philippine Mining Act already provides for two trust funds, “created precisely should there be displacement of beneficiaries because of the violation of the Mining Act,” and Lopez’s requirement for the miners to give to a new trust fund – this time for farming communities outside the rehabilitation zones designated under the law – cannot be done by mere department order, said the company.
Citinickel said it has already deposited to two trust funds, and has the receipts for such.
“We do not understand why Secretary Lopez such created a third trust fund; and she has requested Citinickel to form a foundation, an NGO that is capitalized at P130 million,” said Kapunan.
According to her, the miner was being required to transact with Biochar, a private entity “owned under the name of Usec Camera et al,” referring to the controversial Lopez appointee Philip Camara, whose designation had caused a rift between Lopez and the personnel officer of DENR.
The 41-page CMDC complaint said Lopez used her position to impose additional requirements on them after she froze their ore shipments.
These requirements were unlawful and breach the prerogative of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Citinickel said.
By her actions, the company said Lopez disregarded a valid 25-year Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) between Citinickel and the DENR when she ordered their suspension, and raised so many other obstacles that effectively render the agreement useless.
Part of the complaint said: “Secretary Lopez is not only unaware of the limits of (her) office; she likewise displays a propensity to be a tyrant that cannot be reasoned out with. She imposes restrictions without regards to the law and the property rights of the public which she serves.”
Specifically, Lopez is accused of breaching Sections 3(a), (e) and (f) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, Illegal Exaction, Violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees and Violation of the Red Tape Act of 2007.
Overstepped authority in blocking MOEP
According to Kapunan, when Lopez suspended CMDC in July 2016, the company applied for a Mineral Ore Export Permit (MOEP) with the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) so it can remove and transport already-mined ores from the area, noting the peril this could post to the environment.
The MGB immediately granted the MOEP in November 2016, but Lopez issued a Memorandum on January 30, 2017 imposing additional requirements for the issuance of that MOEP. This included the controversial third trust fund: requiring the company to shell out P2 million per hectare of disturbed land.
CMDC said the trust fund is superfluous, noting the two trust funds set up under the Philippine Mining Act. Kapunan noted that CMDC had already been depositing to the two earlier funds for the same purpose.
CMDP received more alleged conditions from Lopez for the granting of the MOEP on February 17, 2017: to secure a performance bond of P130 million and to use the private firm BioChar for rehabilitating their mined areas.
Former DENR undersecretary Camara is listed as the current president of BioChar.
More requirements followed: organizing an NGO called the Espanola Community Administration Services Inc. (ECASI) to finance the Green Economy Transitioning Area Development Plan and Program (GETADPP) for Narra and Espanola, Palawan.
The complaint said Lopez, through Camara, also demanded that besides paying the P2 million per hectare of disturbed land and P130-performance bond, CMDP should deposit P1 million per vessel used to ship the mineral ores to ECASI.
Citinickel was also required to deposit the P130 million performance bond to ECASI’s bank account, Kapunan said.
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