MANILA – Mining industry chiefs had just assailed her order to shut down more than half of the Philippines’ mines, and Regina Lopez was in a combative mood: but, to keep her cool before an interview, she slipped into a side room and meditated for a few minutes.
There is a spiritual side to Lopez, the daughter of a media mogul who, at 18, left a life of privilege behind in the Philippines, took a vow of celibacy and became a yoga teacher and missionary in Africa, living in slums among the poor.
But Lopez is also a fiery environmental crusader. She has no qualms about attacking the powerful and flouting convention, just like the country’s blunt-spoken president, Rodrigo Duterte, who appointed her as his environment minister last year.
Since then, she has become the bane of big mining companies, which she accuses of earning “blood money” in the fifth-most-mineralised country in the world. “Where does the money go? It goes to a few people who are already very rich and to foreigners. We’re raping the local economy for their wealth,” the 63-year-old secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said in conversations with Reuters in Manila this week.
“They are killing our rivers, our streams, they are mining in watersheds,” she said, her voice strident with emotion. “I’ve made a policy that there should be no mining in functioning watersheds because gold and nickel can never be more important than people’s lives.”
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