Sato urges probe of alleged lobby money in Commission on Appointments proceedings

May 7, 2017 - 4:00 PM
Gina Lopez Josephine Ramirez Sato
Environment secretary-designate Regina Lopez, left, and Rep. Josephine Ramirez-Sato during the Commission on Appointments hearing.

MANILA – A member of the Commission on Appointments (CA) at the weekend called for a probe into allegations that “lobby money” led to the decision not to confirm Regina Paz L. Lopez’s appointment to the top Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) post.

Occidental Mindoro Rep. Josephine Ramirez-Sato urged Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, who is also chairman of the CA, to investigate the “lobby money, if necessary” claim against members of the appointments body and to mete out appropriate actions.

“I believe inaction will be a disservice to our people and to our country,” said Sato.

Following President Rodrigo Duterte’s insinuation that Lopez was not confirmed because ‘money talks,’ Rep. Sato said any allegation that tends to undermine the integrity and independence of the CA must be taken seriously.

In the wake of the Lopez confirmation hearings, Senator Panfilo Lacson called for an investigation into allegations that the CA members were influenced by financial consideration, with no less than President Rodrigo Duterte saying Lopez was not confirmed because “money talks.”

Rep. Sato was among those who intensely grilled Lopez during the CA panel hearings. The recommendation was adopted by the CA during the plenary deliberation on May 3.

After the decision turning down Lopez’s appointment, no less than President Rodrigo R. Duterte insinuated that lobby money from mining firms influenced the CA’s decision.

Sato pointed out that the CA’s mandate is to serve as an effective check to the appointments of the President, and its recent decision not to confirm Lopez demonstrates the “independence of the current CA.”

“It is a collegial body composed of representatives from the Senate and the House of Representatives who are duty bound to determine the fitness and qualification of cabinet appointees free from undue influence,” she said.

“Any allegation that undermines the integrity and independence of the CA must be taken seriously,” she added.

She said there are two major issues Lopez failed to address.

“Firstly, on several occasions Ms. Lopez admitted to issuances that had no basis in law – when she pronounced to prohibit mining in all watersheds, when she admitted to ‘changing’ mining audit standards and when she imposed additional financial obligations on the mineral ore exports of mining firms – whether they were suspended or not. Her tendency to use her prerogative over established rules and regulation and ignore due process is an utter disregard for the rule of law and shows a lack of understanding of the function and role of the Executive Department,” she said.

More critically, Sato said by disregarding laws and procedures Ms. Lopez inadvertently gave illegal loggers, irresponsible miners and environmental criminals a loophole or a workaround through legalese and technicalities to the detriment of affected communities and the marginalized sectors.

Secondly, Sato said Lopez continued to set aside civil service rules by hiring 55 ‘consultants’ and officials, designating unqualified personnel to managerial and supervisory positions and leaving 50 career personnel in floating status.

“Both the Civil Service Commission and the Commission on Audit have issued adverse rulings on this matter. The decision of Ms. Lopez to manage the Department in this way has brought on demoralization and undermined professionalism in the DENR bureaucracy,” she said.

Nevertheless, Sato said women of passion can never be let down.

“It is my sincere hope that Ms. Gina Lopez finds the appropriate platform not just to express her passion for the environment but also to see this passion fully actualized,” she said.