DENR’s Lopez defends new mining directive as she accuses BW reporter of ‘being bought’

Posted on April 07, 2017

ENVIRONMENT SECRETARY Regina Paz “Gina” L. Lopez on Thursday sought to defend a directive to create a “rehab fund” for farmers “disadvantaged” by mining.

In the process of defending the proposal -- which is being questioned by miners -- however, Ms. Lopez lost her composure and suggested that reporters covering the matter had been “bought.”

The Environment secretary told BusinessWorld reporter Janina C. Lim: “You’re just a fucking employee,” Ms. Lopez blurted out the line as she was stopped by Ms. Lim and another reporter on the landing of the second floor of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) office in Quezon City.

At that time, Ms. Lopez was taking the stairs on the way up to her office on the fourth floor.

The exchange between the official and the reporter took place minutes after several DENR employees supposedly called off a rally against the secretary that was set for nine that morning. Just a few days before the incident, Ms. Lim filed an exclusive report, saying that the Civil Service Commission rejected the temporary appointment of Mr. Philip G. Camarra, who was appointed by Ms. Lopez as DENR undersecretary.

The incident on Thursday morning began when Ms. Lim, who has been covering the environment and agriculture beats since January last year, asked the secretary whether she was attending a meeting of the Mining Industry Coordinating Council that afternoon at the National Economic and Development Authority office in Pasig City.

As indicated by the audio recording, Ms. Lopez then began to be testy, asking both reporters whether they knew that mining “disadvantaged” farmlands.

“When you mine, you disadvantage farmlands, you understand? You understand?” Ms. Lopez can be heard saying in the recording. "Are you listening? Like for example in Zambales, there are 2.6 million tons of stockpile... All I’m asking is that they give P2 million for every farmer for every farmland that’s out of the rehab zone. Who’s going to take care of the farmers? What’s wrong with that?"

However, when Ms. Lopez was told that miners already filed an appeal at the Office of the President against the financial requirement, she proceeded to issue a firm appeal to pity.

“Why don’t you have a heart for the poor when you’re so young?” she told the reporters. “And you’re already being bought by greed and selfishness. I don’t like it.”

The audio recording ended with Ms. Lim, saying: “I was not bought, Ma’am. I was not bought.”

Despite the incident, Ms. Lim said that she didn’t feel that she was “singled out” by Ms. Lopez.

“I was quiet all throughout [the incident],” she said in a phone interview.

In a text message sent later in the day, Ms. Lopez said: “This morning, I was rushing to a TV interview and I was already very late. I was accosted by Janina Lim of BusinessWorld in the stairway. She is young and persistent -- but I have often been irritated by her line of questioning. She was not the best person to meet while rushing for an appointment. So I lost my cool with her -- which has some history since she has been covering the DENR beat for many months. Whilst I feel she has a lot of potential, her insistence, and oftentimes, insensitivity and lack of compassion to some situations where I feel some kind of concern is merited has often irritated me. It was a repartee that took place in a stairway. Without anyone there. It is unfortunate that this is hitting the news. I personally feel its like looking for some kind of hole to punch, I would have much rather preferred that words said in a stairway be left in the privacy for which it is meant.”

For his part, BusinessWorld Editor-in-Chief Roby A. Alampay assured Ms. Lopez during a phone conversation on Thursday evening that notwithstanding BusinessWorld’s ownership structure, the paper continues to maintain its editorial independence.

In a separate statement, Mr. Alampay said that BusinessWorld stands by Ms. Lim’s “dignity and idealism.”

“Janina is a professional,” Mr. Alampay said. “She has a heart for news, facts, and the truth. It is unfortunate, and we are dismayed, that a public servant would attack and malign the integrity of a journalist who is simply doing her job.”

Hastings Holdings, Inc. -- a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc. -- maintains an interest in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls. PLDT, Inc. is one of the three Philippine units of Hong Kong-based First Pacific Co. Ltd., the other two being Metro Pacific Investments Corp. and Philex Mining Corp.
-- Robert J.A. Basilio, Jr.

(This article was updated with a quote from Janina Lim and to include the audio recording of the incident.)