DAVAO CITY-- President Rodrigo Duterte said the Commission on Appointment's rejection of Gina Lopez as Environment Secretary is "sayang" because "I really like her passion" but hinted "lobby money" led to her rejection.
"I made a pinch-hit for her. You know how it is. This is a democracy. And lobby money talks. I do not control everything," Duterte said at the 27th Philippine Orthopaedic Association mid-year convention at the SMX Convention Center here Thursday.
Duterte invoked the separation of powers among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, that he heads only the Executive department "so hindi ko talaga kontrolado ang lahat" (I do not control everything).
"May mga tao ako na gusto ko, pero I share powers," Duterte said, adding that while he has the power to appoint, the appointee has to undergo the scrutiny of the Commission on Appointments.
Sweeping, inappropriate, uncalled for
In a statement, Senator Panfilo Lacson, a member of the CA who voted against Lopez, said that while he is sure the President's comment does not apply to him, "I think it is unfortunate if not inappropriate and uncalled for."
"It is a sweeping assault not only on the integrity of the members of the CA who voted for rejection but the CA itself, being an independent constitutional body," he said.
But Lacson also noted that CA members allied with Duterte "will not cast their votes without first seeking his guidance." Majority of Duterte's party mates voted against Lopez.
The 25-member CA rejected Lopez' appointment after three confirmation hearings that ended Tuesday in a secret voting. Sixteen reportedly voted to reject her while eight voted to confirm.
Lopez told a press conference after her rejection that big business interests were behind her ouster.
“If the government is coopted by big business, what hope does the poor have? What message are we sending here, that if you want to be confirmed (by the CA), never go against big business?”
“Who suffers if you kill the environment? It’s the poor. And whose duty is it to protect our people? It’s the government and when you make decisions based on business interests, you have shirked your responsibility,” she said.
Lopez added that the CA members who voted against her “lost the moral ascendancy” to be in government because for them, business and money are "more important than the welfare of the people.”
Fr. Raymond Ambray, parish priest of Lingig in Surigao del Sur, said the President could have done more for Lopez.
"We know well how easily he can get what he intended based on his influence on the legislators. How come he seemed to be powerless (in the case of) Gina Lopez? If the President has always the thumbprint on what is going on in his administration, then it seems that he prefers money that 'talks' over the perennial issue of the environment and the consequent welfare of the poor people."
But Ambray added that "no amount of washing of hands would dissociate him from 'money talks.' Or it is either becoming obvious that the money in in control, not him."
"I wonder how this administration is implementing change. It is getting clearer that the change that is happening now is mostly on those occupying seats of power. Indeed, 'money talks' as always," he said.
Dr. Jean Lindo, Gabriela Southern Mindanao chair and co-chair of the environmental group Panalipdan, told MindaNews that the President "should know that people are rooting for change."
"When he said that 'lobby money talks,' I needed him to make that lobby money to shut up. That declaration should not be one of defeat but a resolve to fight corruption. He needed change, then he should find another person with Gina's determination and retain Gina even as Undersecretary," Lindo said.
Duterte in the same speech before the POA on Thursday repeated previous pronouncements that he "will stop corruption," that he has fired "about 96 to date" mostly in the regulatory bodies, that he has suspended Energy Regulatory Commison chair Jose Salazar "because of corruption" and that he "will eventually remove him, 'yung lahat sila" (all of them).
He again narrated how he fired a Cabinet member and a long-time ally from Davao.
He said he is "trying my very best" to stop corruption but called on the Filipino people to help him.
"Kayo lang ang tao eh. It is only the Filipino who can stop corruption. It is not me. I can control it but kung talagang gusto ninyong hintuin, kayo lang. All you have to do is to stop giving or do not give ... ke ma-Customs, ke ma-BIR, ke sa Professional Regulatory Commission. Huwag kayong magbigay ‘pag hiningian kayo" (do not give if they ask from you). (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)
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