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Philippines' Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Regina Lopez gestures during a Commission on Appointment hearing at the Senate headquarters in Pasay city, metro Manila, Philippines March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco


MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines' environment minister said on Thursday that President Rodrigo Duterte has assured her he would reappoint her if a congressional panel delays a decision on her confirmation, giving her more time to press her case on mine closures.

Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez is facing a heated hearing to have her position confirmed by lawmakers after ordering the closure of more than half of the country's mines for environmental infringements.

"The president said he has confidence in me and he would just reappoint (me)," Lopez told reporters, during a break at her hearing.

In the Philippines, confirmation hearings can take place long after ministers start work. On Wednesday, the Commission on Appointments unanimously decided not to approve Perfecto Yasay as foreign minister, the first member of Duterte's cabinet to be rejected by the panel.

The congressional panel is hearing from those opposed to Lopez's confirmation and can defer a vote to a later date. Congress will go on recess from March 18, but Lopez is due to leave the country on Friday. Sessions will not resume until May.

If a vote is deferred Duterte could appoint someone else to the role, but Lopez said she would be reappointed.

Her decision to shut or suspend 28 of the 41 operating mines in the world's top nickel ore exporter has raised concerns of supply disruptions and boosted nickel prices.

A committed environmentalist, Lopez defended her actions before lawmakers, arguing that she was trying to protect the functions of watersheds where many of the mines are located.

She noted that some of the 13 mines that passed the environment agency's months-long review were also in watershed zones, but were allowed to stay open as they are not having a negative environmental impact.

Mines in watershed areas that were ordered shut could seek reconsideration and she would look at such cases.

"I'm not going to do anything just to get appointed," she said. "I am not going to sacrifice my principles just to get appointed."

A mining industry group has said that the mine closures would affect 1.2 million people that depend on the sector for their livelihood.

"(Lopez's) extreme ideology and environmental fanaticism will only cause a mess that will hurt many and benefit no one," Ronald Recidoro, lawyer from the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines told the hearing.

(For graphic on Philippine mine closures, click on http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/PHILIPPINES-MINING/010031S942V/index.html)

(Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Writing by Manolo Serapio Jr.; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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