Sec. Gina Lopez of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, a renowned crusader herself even before being tapped by Pres. Duterte to head the agency, has taken “baby steps” to help ensure that local mining operations are kept in check by closing down or suspending operations of several big mining outfits after an initial audit. Now the more difficult work begins – ensuring that these mining firms comply to strict environmental laws and high-end mining operational standards before they can even resume operations. If they comply and resume operation, strict monitoring should be in place to ensure that they remain compliant and if they don’t – suspend them again or close them permanently. For areas that are at risk of unrecoverable deterioration due to further mining, selective permanent mining ban should be implemented.

Big mining firms have already stepped up their publicity and legal campaign (not surprisingly) against Sec. Gina Lopez’s laudable actions, even using mine workers and their families to do their bidding. What the majority of Filipinos are beginning to realize though, is that while it is unfortunate that these families may lose their livelihoods – they’re just pawns being used by business goliaths who continue to rape and pillage our environment to feed their insatiable greed. Gov’t should set into motion alternative livelihood projects for these affected communities in order to cushion the unavoidable impact.

The news over the weekend of an environment activist, Atty. Mia Manuelita Mascarinas-Green, being killed is alarming. The killing is the 12th since Pres. Duterte took office 7 months ago, on top of another 100 murders of environmental activists 15 years before that. Justice for such crimes must be swift and unforgiving. Like in the case of Dr. Gerry Ortega, the masterminds must be brought to justice. This type of terrorism against environmental heroes should never be allowed to prosper.

During his first SONA Pres. Duterte described Sec. Gina Lopez as a crusader (like him) and that is how he knew that she was right for the job as DENR head. And that is why she should be able to count on the President’s all-out support. For the first time in Philippine history, we may have someone who’s willing to butt heads with mining’s errant players and make a mark on the preservation of our country’s (once very) rich but fast-eroding natural resources by taking steps to help ensure compliance to strict environmental standards.