WE recalled Jesus saying “… No prophet is accepted in his own country” (Luke 4:24) when we heard Thursday that former Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez has been awarded the 2017 Seacology Prize in rites in Berkeley, California.
Seacology is a non-profit organization working with islanders around the world to protect threatened ecosystems and upgrade the quality of their lives. It is supported in its technical endeavors by a lineup of scientists and researchers.
Lopez’s recognition contrasted with her rejection on May 3 by the bicameral Commission on Appointments amid reports that a powerful mining lobby had been pressuring Malacañang and the Congress to drop her as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Seacology offers island villages worldwide – if they agree to create a forest or marine reserve — funds for a project that they badly need, such as a schoolhouse or health clinic. Since 1991, it has launched 289 projects in 59 countries with endangered ecosystems.
Along with its recognizing Lopez’s 15 years of energetic advocacy of environmental and cultural conservation, Seacology awarded her a $10,000 (P500,000) cash prize.
Lopez said: “I will use this money to develop Kinatarcan Island in Cebu. This gorgeous island has around 1,000 households — it has white sand beaches, mountains, caves, lagoons, etc. It is still undeveloped and I want to get the people there out of poverty. It can be done, because of the resources they have. It just has to be done right… And if there is still excess money, I will use it to help other places like Aloguinsan, Lobo, Guimaras.
“More than the award, it’s the message Seacology wishes to convey that is important — which is the need to protect island ecosystems by investing in local communities so that their lives come up. I truly believe that building the country from the bottom up is the way to go.”
Hailing her vision and courage, Seacology executive director Duane Silverstein said: “Gina Lopez has fought for the Philippines environment and for giving island communities there a voice in the decisions that affect their natural resources and their lives.” (Watch Seacology’s video: http://tinyurl.com/yaaasdnh)
Seacology cited Lopez’s championing social and environmental causes, mentioning the rehabilitation of the polluted Pasig River and its tributaries, the saving of the La Mesa watershed with its extensive rainforest (site of the reservoir from which 12 million people get their drinking water) making it an eco-park for urban dwellers, and the Save Palawan Island movement.
What did Lopez in was her vigorous action as DENR secretary against irresponsible and destructive mining, especially heavily polluting nickel mines, her banning open-pit mines, and her move to shut down more than half of the country’s mining companies.
• Duterte-Morales showdown looms
IT’S GOOD that Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales is standing her ground against President Rodrigo Duterte, unlike many politicians and businessmen who – presumably because they have something to hide – have been intimidated into keeping quiet or playing along.
Failing to stop the Office of the Ombudsman from inquiring into reports that he has unexplained bank deposits amounting to at least P200 million, Duterte turned the tables on Morales et al. by creating his own Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate her.
“I’m a fatalist, if it comes, it comes,” Morales shrugged, making light of Duterte’s threat to dig deeper into alleged corruption in her office such as the “fixing” of cases in exchange for bribes.
Under his Executive Order No. 43 issued Oct. 4, he empowered the PACC to investigate and discipline officials appointed by the President in and outside the Executive department – including the judiciary, the office of the Ombudsman, and constitutional commissions.
The PACC has been described as legally challenged and redundant, as it disregards the independence of certain constitutionally protected bodies and duplicates the work of existing agencies.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, for one, said: “EO 43 cannot be extended outside the Executive branch without violating the core principles of independence and checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution. It cannot be used to discipline or recommend actions against any member, official and employee of other branches of government, including Congress, the Judiciary, Civil Service Commission, Commission on Audit, Commission on Elections, Commission on Human Rights, and the Office of the Ombudsman,”
Noting that the Supreme Court has upheld in many cases the constitutional independence of offices such as that of the Ombudsman, Drilon called attention to Section 5 (c) of EO 43 saying that “upon instructions of the President, or motu proprio, the Commission may also conduct lifestyle checks and fact-finding inquiries on acts or omissions of all presidential appointees, including those outside of the Executive Branch of government, which may be violative of the Constitution, or contrary to law, rules and regulations, and/or constitute serious misconduct tantamount to betrayal of public trust.”
Citing Gonzales v. Office of the President (GR 196231), Drilon said that members of constitutional bodies such as the Ombudsman, by virtue of their constitutional independence, may not be removed or disciplined by the President.
“What we want to prevent here is a situation where constitutional offices would be, in effect, under the mercy of the Executive that they are mandated to investigate,” Drilon said. The creation of the PACC faces possible challenge before the Supreme Court.