Regina Lopez, the Environment Secretary has accused the Philippines government of siding with big businesses after President Rodrigo Duterte and his cabinet revoked her decision to close half of the country's mining operations.
Malacanang Palace and the cabinet decided on Wednesday (8 February) that due process needed to take place first and the companies should be given the opportunity to be heard before a final decision is made.
In a statement, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said that the 23 mining companies ordered to be closed and the five that were suspended for violating environmental regulations, will be given the chance to dispute the mining audit undertaken by Lopez's Department of the Environment and Natural Resources.
The audit by the department has yet to be made public. Abella said that the mining companies would also be given the opportunity to undertake "the necessary remedies to ensure compliance with government standards," Manila Standard reports.
Still standing firmly behind her decision on 2 February to close the mines, she said the government should always stand for the poor, CNN Philippines reports.
"The only entity that can stand against political and business interest is the government. And if we co-opt our role to the side of big business, what's going to happen to these guys? The farmers and fishermen who have been suffering for decades."
She insisted that 15 of the mining firms ordered to close were operating inside a watershed, which could pollute the water source.
"The mining law says you should not disadvantage the present and future generations. When you kill the river and the streams and you put mining in watersheds, what are you doing?" Lopez said in a joint press conference with Abella on 9 February.
Lopez admits she disregarded recommendation of committee
The secretary also admitted that she had disregarded the recommendation of a technical review committee to just suspend the activities of the mining companies. The committee had only recommended suspension and fines.
Lopez however decided to go ahead and close the 23 mines on her own, Manila Standard said.
"Yeah that's true," she told reporters, referring to news reports that the decision she made was contrary to that of the technical review committee. "[The recommendation of the technical committee of] suspension and fines ... and the fines don't go to the community; it goes to the national government, it's so unfair."
Lopez also claimed that the mining industry funded political campaigns. "Even if you don't have business interest ... the fact is, mining money funds political campaigns. You know that, but I know that when you are funded by whoever, then you are indebted to that person.
The secretary continued: "And so what happens is the decisions those people make are by and large, always in favour of the people who funded their campaign."
CNN Philippines said that although Duterte has been vocal on his stance on mining, it claimed that the president's Statement of Contributions and Expenditures listed some funders from the mining sector.
Lopez however conceded that the final decision on the closure of the mines was still up to Duterte.
"At the end of the day, he makes the decision." She was quick to point out that in the Cabinet meeting, Duterte's last closing remark was that he agreed there shouldn't be any mining industry in watersheds.