Philanthropist and former Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) secretary Gina Lopez served as a long-time chairperson of the ABS-CBN Foundation Inc. (AFI). Her decades of work gave birth to Bantay Bata 163, Bantay Kalikasan, and several campaigns and projects, including Kapit Bisig para sa Ilog Pasig, No to Mining in Palawan, and the reforestation of La Mesa Watershed.
Earth warrior Gina Lopez, 65
Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - August 20, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Philanthropist and former Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) secretary Gina Lopez died early yesterday due to multiple organ failure after battling brain cancer. She was 65.

Lopez served as a long-time chairperson of the ABS-CBN Foundation Inc. (AFI). Her decades of work gave birth to Bantay Bata 163, Bantay Kalikasan, and several campaigns and projects, including Kapit Bisig para sa Ilog Pasig, No to Mining in Palawan, and the reforestation of La Mesa Watershed.

Lopez was also a columnist of The STAR’s Lifestyle section.

In a statement, ABS-CBN said it lost a fervent advocate of children’s rights and protection, a passionate proponent of sustainable livelihood among the underprivileged, and an unswerving champion for environment preservation.

“Gina was the pillar of strength that pushed AFI to achieve what seemed to be impossible. Her caring heart and selfless kind of love inspired people within and beyond the organization to help and serve others,” it added.

ABS-CBN chairman Mark Lopez said his cousin lived her life with overflowing love and passion to serve.

“At an age when people are just figuring out what they want to do in life, she already knew her purpose. She left a comfortable life to devote her time and energy to help uplift other people’s lives,” he said.

“When she returned to join ABS-CBN, she instilled in her people the same drive to help. For her, nothing cannot be done, no effort is too small, anybody can—and should—do their part in making the world a better place,” Lopez added.

Palace: Lopez legacy unparalleled

Malacañang cited Lopez as an environmental warrior and advocate whose legacy was unparalleled.

“The Palace deeply grieves the demise of one of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s most passionate Cabinet members whose environmental advocacy and legacy remains unparalleled to this day,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement yesterday.

“Lopez took the bull by the horns when she fiercely fought powerful interests in the mining sector, as well as in industries having negative effect on our ecology. She would be greatly missed,” Panelo said.

Senators mourned the passing of the former environment secretary, and cited her lifelong work to protect the environment and children.

Sen. Sonny Angara said with her selfless works, Lopez “was the confirmed environment secretary of the people, the minister for sustainable development, and the ambassador for children’s rights.”

He added, “She fought for children who were incapable of seeking justice and care for themselves, and eloquently spoke for the people in the communities whose voices have been crushed by exploitation.”

Sen. Bong Go cited her for her work as secretary of DENR.

“I had the honor of working with her when she was the environment secretary of the Duterte Administration. As a former colleague in the government, I know how passionate, dedicated and humble she was as a public servant and as an Earth warrior,” Go said in a statement. 

Sen. Grace Poe said Lopez “taught us love for mankind and the environment, our common home.”

“Thank you for touching our lives in your impassioned way. May our prayers bring you peace and your family, comfort,” Poe added.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto described Lopez as the “great secretary of defense of our natural resources.”

“She walked her talk, be it in defense of helpless children or displaced communities, or in nursing back to life polluted waters or ravaged forests,” Recto said.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan thanked Lopez for her service to the nation, “We worked together on various advocacies of the ABS-CBN Foundation spanning three decades. We partnered with her in the early ’90s to raise funds for the resettlement of victims of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption. We partnered with her again a decade later to help build the La Mesa Dam Eco Park Project, and yet again a few years ago to help raise incomes for farming communities in Palawan and other parts of the country.”

Sen. Nancy Binay offered prayers for Lopez’s family and friends. “A staunch defender of the environment, she was steadfast in her beliefs and inspired us all through her passion for the environment,” Binay said.

House Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda, former news anchor of ABS-CBN, also extended her condolences and said, “She was passionate, courageous and she knew what her purpose was. She lived a life dedicated to saving and preserving the environment for the younger generations. She treaded the paths most will unlikely take,” the Antique congresswoman said. 

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu noted that he remembers his predecessor in DENR as a strict environmentalist, and that some of her department orders are still in effect.

In a statement, Cimatu said, “Gina was a pure champion of the environment, bold and fearless in her advocacies, regardless of the consequences. She was uncompromising in protecting watersheds and imposing high standards of responsibility on the mining industry. At the same time, Gina was compassionate for the underprivileged, and for them promoted ecotourism as a way out of poverty.”

Lopez’s most notable achievements include the successful reforestation of the La Mesa Watershed and the rehabilitation of 17 esteros of the Pasig River.

She also pioneered Educational Television in the Philippines which put in place video libraries in 10,000 public schools, and served as vice-chairperson of ABS-CBN Bayan Foundation, which provides microfinance assistance to micro-entrepreneurs.

She became the first Filipino to be awarded the prestigious Seacology Prize in October 2017 at Berkeley in California for her “exceptional achievement in preserving island environments and culture.”

Lopez was the daughter of ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Eugenio Lopez Jr. and Conchita La’o. She is survived by her two sons, Roberto and Benjamin.

Champion of communities

For 10 months as DENR secretary, Lopez ordered the conduct of a mine audit, cancelled mining contracts, suspended the operations of 26 mining projects and issued new policies to ensure that the industry is up to international standards on transparency and disclosures.

However, the congressional Commission on Appointments rejected her appointment, which President Duterte described as a loss.

Even the mining sector, who received the greatest attention during her stint at the DENR, bid goodbye and hoped that Lopez has finally found peace.

“We had our differences, but at the end of the day, we both wanted the same thing: a better planet for our children. You kept the mining industry on its toes, urging us to do better, and for that, I am truly grateful,” Chamber of Mines of the Philippines executive director Ronald Recidoro said.

Non-government organization Alyansa Tigil Mina, emphasized that Lopez was a bastion of environmental activism, and a source of hope and inspiration for many communities and organizations.

Meanwhile, the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission, which Lopez served as chairperson from 2009 to 2016, said, “She was a great leader, an inspiring mentor, a loving friend, and a colleague full of character. She will always be the champion of the Filipino communities and will forever be remembered as the unwavering advocate and muse of the Pasig River.”

Environmental groups also expressed sadness over Lopez’s passing.

Aileen Lucero, national coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition, said, “When the Commission on Appointments rejected Gina’s nomination as DENR secretary, we said it was a dark day in our nation’s struggles against destructive mining operations and for sustainable resource use. Today is a very sad day as we mourn the passing of Gina, an outspoken eco-warrior who took on powerful mining companies and bravely fought for our threatened ecosystems and communities and for our common future.”  – With Edith Regalado, Alexis Romero, Paolo Romero, Helen Flores, Jose Rodel Clapano, Rhodina Villanueva, Emmanuel Tupas, Delon Porcalla

DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES EARTH WARRIOR GINA LOPEZ
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