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Gina Lopez faces 4th graft complaint as she awaits confirmation

Citinickel Mines and Development Corporation accuses the environment secretary of usurping Congress’ powers when she required mines to pay P2 million per hectare of ‘disturbed’ land

4TH COMPLAINT. Citinickel Mines is the 4th party to file a graft complaint against Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, this time over the P2-million fee she requires per hectare of disturbed land. Rappler file photo

MANILA, Philippines – On the day Environment Secretary Gina Lopez was expecting the Commission on Appointments’ decision on her post on Wednesday, May 3, a 4th graft complaint was filed against her with the Ombudsman.

"She cannot understand what is meant by separation of powers," said lawyer Lorna Kapunan, who filed the complaint on behalf of Citinickel Mines and Development Corporation (CMDC).

Lopez is accused of requiring CMDC to pay "two million [pesos] per hectare of alleged disturbed land" to a trust fund.

Kapunan said the trust fund that Lopez created has not been recognized by Congress as there are already two trust funds managed by the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), as mandated by the Philippine Mining Act.

According to her, the trust fund set in place was private, managed by Lopez, and not the DBP.

4th complaint

This is the 4th complaint that the secretary faces, as the CA continues to bypass her confirmation.

The first complaint, filed by Air Board Company and a consumers’ group, alleged that Lopez did not act on the defective air monitoring equipment of the environment department. The second, filed by the Chamber of Mines, accused her of violating due process in ordering the closure and suspension of mining operations.

The 3rd, filed on March 16 this year, accused Lopez of influencing the Department of Energy to award a $100-million government project to a private company she favored, and getting an all-expenses-paid trip to Paris out of the transaction.

Lopez has denied all accusations, and called on her accusers to "climb a mountain and go meditate."

The decision of the CA comes Wednesday. Should the powerful body reject her, Lopez will be the second Cabinet member of the Duterte administration to not get confirmed, following former Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr.

GOING AFTER GINA. Citinickel Mines and Development Corporation lawyer Lorna Kapunan (center) says of the environment secretary: "She cannot understand what is meant by separation of powers." Photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

Citinickel’s case

In the 41-page complaint filed by Kapunan, CMDC accused Lopez of "usurping powers of Congress by overstretching requirements mandated by the mining laws."

Before the complaint, CMDC was suspended by Lopez in July 2016, requiring them to file a Mineral Ore Export Permit (MOEP) with the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB).

CMDC ores were then classified as having the potential to harm the environment in Narra and Española towns in Palawan, and the company was accused of having mined in an area not covered by their Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) Clearance from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.

The company was cleared for the permit in November 2016. However, it claims Lopez asked them for additional requirements in the months that followed.

Kapunan accused Lopez of requiring CMDC in January 2017 to set up a trust fund amounting to "P2 million per hectare of [the] disturbed land" in Palawan. On February 17, 2017, CMDC was required to deposit a P130-million performance bond with BioChar "as means of rehabilitation in their mined areas." BioChar is a company which former DENR Undersecretary Philip Camara now heads. Then, they were allegedly required to pay P1 million per shipping vessel that docked at Española.

CMDC remains suspended as of May 2017. – Rappler.com