Former Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary passed away at the age of 65.
Before becoming the headstrong environment and pro-poor advocate we now know her to be, Lopez led a privileged lifestyle, being the daughter of media tycoon Eugenio Lopez, Jr., and in an essay she wrote for Rogue magazine, she described her childhood as one full of “warmth and love.”
But even in her younger years, this Earth Warrior, as she was fondly called by supporters, had already been looking for something more, something beyond what her luxurious life could offer her.
Despite her privileged background, she learned to live with the barest minimum
While spending some years in the US for her tertiary education, she went to an ashram and learned meditation, where she says she “had a feeling of Divine Love,” which had forged a new path for her life. Lopez left her home and her sheltered life to go and live as a yoga missionary in Portugal, India, and Africa.
In Africa, her beliefs strengthened and reinforced her advocacies. As an Ananda Marga yoga missionary, she had to care for underprivileged children and teach them yoga and pre-primary school modules, all while living with the bare minimum and scraping for funds to survive and provide for the children under her care.
“I lived as the poor lived, so I learned how not to be wasteful,” Lopez shared in her essay. Despite the temptation of the luxurious life she could’ve led here, Gina Lopez chose to follow her calling and immersed herself in the underprivileged life to lend help to those who need it.
She strongly pushed for her socioeconomic beliefs
When she fell in love with her then-husband, she had to give up her missionary life and go back home to the Philippines. But this didn’t stop her from pushing for her advocacies, and she started right at the heart of her family’s business, taking up the responsibility of leading ABS-CBN Foundation.
During her tenure, Lopez launched the Bantay Bata 163, the first rescue hotline for children in Asia, reaching out to Filipino children victimized by domestic violence. She also showed support for micro-entrepreneurs, providing them microfinance assistance through the ABS-CBN Bayan Foundation.
She made the most of her resources for her causes
Using her family’s resources, Lopez also pioneered the Educational Television (ETV) in the country, producing educational shows on various subjects including Science (Sineskwela), Math (Math Tinik), Values (Hirayamanawari), History (Bayani), and English (Epol/Apple). For Sineskwela, Lopez became the first Southeast Asian to earn the UNESCO Kalinga Award.
She relentlessly advocated for the environment
But more than these socioeconomic causes, Gina Lopez was best known for her advocacy for the environment.
She began with the foundation of Bantay Kalikasan, a program under ABS-CBN Foundation that advocates for the protection of the environment. Under the program, she worked toward the rehabilitation and reforestation of La Mesa Watershed Reservation, successfully protecting the last forest zone inside Metro Manila.
She didn’t wait for anything or anyone to do what she needs to do
Long before she became directly involved in governmental affairs, Lopez has already been implementing projects for the causes she believes in.
She launched the “Kapit Bisig para sa Ilog Pasig” (KBPIP), a multi-sectoral clean-up partnership between ABS-CBN Foundation and Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC), with several members from both private and public sectors pledging their support for the program.
And when former President Noynoy Aquino appointed her as the chair of the PRRC in 2010, it only cemented her dedication to the environment and opened up new opportunities to further her advocacy.
She was not afraid to bump heads with anyone, whoever they are
In 2011, Lopez led the Save the Palawan Movement, launching a campaign seeking at least 10 million signatures to call for a stop on all forms of mining in Palawan, the last natural sanctuary in the country. Her strong anti-mining beliefs made her many enemies in the mining sector. But Lopez didn’t let this hinder her.
When President Rodrigo Duterte offered her the post of DENR Secretary, she took on the challenge despite the threats from the mining industry and the skepticism of many Filipino netizens.
On her very first day in office, she began auditing and cracking down on all mining sites and firms in the country. And that was just the beginning. She closed and suspended mining firms with violations against the environment and the law. She also cancelled the contracts of 75 mining companies.
However, despite her sincere efforts and the President’s vocal support, the Commission on Appointments rejected her appointment only 10 months after she entered office.
She was unashamedly passionate in her pursuits
While her stint in the government was short, Lopez didn’t let that stop her. She continued pursuing her passion and furthering her advocacy. “I got really popular [when I was] rejected from DENR, so I’m riding on a crest and I’m maneuvering all the support into building green models on the ground,” she told Earth Island Journal.
Upon leaving the government, she launched the organization ILOVE (Investments of Love Organizations for Village Economies), in which she combined her learnings as a yoga missionary and her beliefs as a socioeconomic advocate. “I believe love is the foundation of economic growth. . . . It’s like love as a force, as a force of caring for others, a force of empathy,” she tells Earth Island Journal. “I think it’s really powerful. What I want to do is build the country from the bottom up.”
She didn’t let her illness stop her from expressing her concern for the environment
Last month, Lopez posted a video of Gary Valenciano singing to her, with the caption saying she was having “health challenges which [she has] found a blessing.”
And even in her last few weeks, as she was receiving medical treatment, her main concern is still the environment. She posted on her Facebook page to bring attention to the destructive mining operations still going on around the country: “I am lying down having an infusion of 27000 IU of vitamin C for my immune system and feeling the healing of a LENYO mat for my health crisis and browsing through videos and i come across this and i remember my DENR days – and how painful it all was… [disappointed emoji] I really do sincerely hope something can be done about the destruction that mining brings on…. [disappointed emoji].”
To the end, Gina Lopez was truly the environment warrior our country needed, and her legacy lives on.
In lieu of flowers and mass cards, the family requests that donations be made to the ABS-CBN Foundation.
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