Environment Secretary Gina Lopez has promised to strengthen civil society participation in environmental governance, which is guided by the principle of the common good.

Lopez, in her most recent speaking engagement, said that civil society organizations (CSOs) have a critical role to play in ensuring the success of policies and programs of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), including the ongoing review of all mining operations in the country.

In fact, Lopez said the CSOs have already started working with the new administration by providing vital information that became the basis for the suspension of abusive and non-compliant mining firms.

"One of the things that I would like to do now is to open up a civic sector arm in the DENR. Before there was a desk, now it should be an arm," Lopez said in her keynote address at the Public Forum on the Environmental Policy Agenda for the Duterte Administration and the 17th Congress held in Quezon City last Friday.

The forum was organized by the Alternative Law Groups (ALG), in cooperation with the Foundation for the Philippine Environment and the Philippine Tropical Forest Conservation Foundation.

ALG is a coalition of 20 legal resource non-governmental organizations that adhere to the principles and values of alternative or developmental law.

Since Lopez assumed office on July 1, a total of seven mining firms have already been suspended for not complying with environmental safety standards. These are BenguetCorp. Nickel Mines Inc., Eramen Minerals Inc., LNL Archipelago Minerals Inc., Zambales Diversified Metals Corp., Hinatuan Mining Corp., Berong Nickel Corp., and Citinickel Mines and Development Corp.

All seven mining firms are operating in Luzon, four in Zambales and three in Palawan. Lopez said more mining companies will be suspended this week when the DENR concludes its mining audit in Mindanao, particularly in Surigao.

At the ALG forum, Lopez assured that she will always consider the common good in all her decisions at the DENR.

"Why were laws made by man? To protect the common good. So the common good is pre-eminent before anything else," Lopez told the audience who are mostly lawyers involved in civic works.

She added: "You know what's right and wrong in your heart. You don't need a law to tell what's right and wrong. You find a law to protect the common good."

With strong determination and the help of CSOs and other partners, Lopez said she is confident the DENR will be able to achieve its commitment for the common good.

"If you have the will, the heart, and if you base this on the non-negotiable stance of integrity, that is a vessel on which higher forces land," Lopez stressed.

"There is nothing in the world that can stand in the way in the people united for a noble cause," she added. ###