‘Well, there’s a presumption of regularity,’ says Environment Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Maria Paz Luna
MANILA, Philippines (May 9, 2017) — Now that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has a new chief, what will happen to the controversial orders made by Gina Lopez in the past 10 months?
Environment Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Maria Paz Luna said these orders will remain in place unless otherwise “reversed” by the Office of the President or new Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu.
“There’s a presumption of regularity, and I think even [Finance Undersecretary Bayani] Agabin said they hold until the motions for reconsideration or the appeals are resolved,” Luna said, referring to the mining operations that were ordered closed or suspended in February.
How about the 75 mineral production sharing agreements (MPSAs) that Lopez ordered cancelled? Luna clarified that no MPSA has been cancelled and that the concerned mining firms were only issued show cause orders.
She said that for now, the department will wait for “policy direction from the new secretary and just specify that even if unproclaimed, there are watersheds that are critical based on the definition of critical watersheds.”
“And since the proclamations are old and have not been updated, we probably need to protect more watersheds than previously. So there would still be cause for higher levels of protection for unproclaimed watersheds,” Luna added,
A week before she was rejected by the Commission on Appointments, Lopez banned “prospective” open-pit mines in the country. Luna said this administrative order, which has yet to take effect, also stays unless voided.
Asked if Lopez’s orders can be reversed, Luna explained that the mining closures and suspensions – the “quasi-judicial functions” of the then environment secretary – are the subject of motions for reconsideration or appeals before the Office of the President.
“Those are the processes for reversion if those will happen. But they will rely on the same record, so ‘yung discretionary power lang ‘yung magkakaiba, kung ano ‘yung appropriate resolution of the controversy (it’s only the discretionary power that will be different, on what will be the appropriate resolution of the controversy),” Luna added.
She added: “If he [Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu] feels that there are really destructive activities, that the violations are sufficient to constitute a threat big enough to close them now – and I think for some of them meron naman (there is) – then he should already resolve the motions for reconsideration in those cases.”
As for the administrative orders, the environmental lawyer said these would have to be “specifically reversed.”
Luna, who joined DENR last July 2016 upon the invitation of Lopez, said her stay at the department will depend “on the new secretary’s vision and directions,” and “whether I will feel useful under the new administration.”
“Having seen how government service can be, I’m willing to weigh the options for further service, even in so far as stepping down to the item that I was recruited for, PENRO [Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer] level, because I think there’s also a lot to be done there. But I will weigh my options when my options are clear,” she added.
As for the review of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) on mining operations in the country, Luna said this will proceed as planned.
“It will inform both the inter-agency group, the multi-stakeholder group, as well as the policy on how to proceed with the mining industry in general. So that will help tremendously, especially if we get information that it is other than what DENR actually got in the mining audit,” she added.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed on Monday, May 8, the appointment papers of Cimatu, former Armed Forces chief and ambassador, as the new environment chief.