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Health And Family

The essential Gina Lopez

HEART AND MIND - Paulynn Sicam - The Philippine Star
The essential Gina Lopez
Gina Lopez

‘It is not the money that makes the difference, it is the heart. Love should be the main discerning factor whenever decisions are made.’

I met Gina Lopez only last December when I was asked to document her achievements in a case study. I had watched her from afar, finding her somewhat difficult to define or classify. Was she a mere dilletante who had the leisure and resources to dabble in good works? 

I became more interested when she began to show results of her advocacies such as the cleanup of the Pasig River, the rehabilitation of La Mesa Dam forest, the rescue of children in difficult circumstances by Bantay Bata and other successes of the ABS-CBN Foundation that she headed. I watched her work for the passage of the Clean Air Act, do battle with loggers and miners and call attention to the need to preserve Palawan as the last hold-out in the country’s losing battle against environmental degradation.

But Gina remained an enigma.  She was certainly a different breed from other so-called public servants. I admired her guts as Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources taking on big mining and even being labelled as a traitor to the privileged class her family belongs to, but I was taken aback when I saw her break into song after her appointment was rejected by the Commission on Appointments.

What was this woman made of? I had never heard a Cabinet member talk about her work in terms of  “love” and “light,” or break into song to illustrate her point.  And seldom had I seen anyone lose her job in government and pick herself up quickly with more energy and optimism.  I found my answer in two long interviews where, without filters, she let me into her life, her vision and her advocacies. The following are some choice quotes from the interview that, I feel, encapsulate the essential Gina Lopez.

On her time spent in Ananda Marga: “It was not a mission. It was more like character formation, a cocooning. Now I feel I have a mission. In esoteric terms, it is bringing the word of light and love in this country, and doing this in service of the light.”

Running the ABS-CBN Foundation, Gina said, “The warrior me returned. I just evolved into it. In Ananda Marga, I had to be submissive. The culture was not to fight, but to give in. But when I got more and more in touch with injustice, the warrior in me emerged.”

“I don’t like suffering and I don’t like injustice. In Bantay Bata, I was horrified at what was happening to the children, but that was more the compassionate me. It was my exposure to mining that ramped it up many steps higher.”

On her work as head of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission: “The problem of the Pasig is one of consciousness. We feel that it is our basurahan. Structurally, the Pasig is the city’s septic tank. Our septage goes directly into it without being filtered and all this goes into Manila Bay.  The whole thing needs a structural overhaul. If we think our river is sacred, we would not throw our basura there.”

When she came on board, the ABS-CBN Foundation would receive donations from the public and pass them on to NGOs to fund their projects. “I asked, why will we give it out? I want to use it myself because I want to give a report to the public. I really wanted to get my feet wet. I knew I would never give it to the barangay captain. And I would give the last bag of goods myself.  Besides, I wasn’t happy with how the NGOs were using the money. They have certain admin costs. But we work with volunteers at practically no additional cost, and we have done so well.”

“When we work in an area, we ask for a commitment to values. Ang pera ay kailangan para sa pamilya. Hindi para sa lasingan. Without a commitment to values, it doesn’t work.  Sagip Kapamilya is what it is today because of this.”

“In Leyte, where we invested in the environment, the community hit profits of P4 million from fishing, but the people were always fighting; they were selfish.  My staff went there and said tama na, stop it. You have to love each other. When they stopped fighting and began caring for one another, they hit P9 million, more than double, at the end of 2017. I’ve seen it again and again, when you fight, that’s the cause of all evil. When people love each other, they make more money.”

Approaching donors, Gina said, “I talk about the vision, what I want to do on the ground level, my track record of things I’ve done in the past. I have the ability to make things happen. Then I offer something -- nobody gives freely anymore: The media is the key. A lot of the money is given to me because of ABS-CBN.  We offer the donors free airtime, publicity, the assurance that the project will be high profile. If the project does well, it makes ABS look good. And, as Daddy said, ‘In the Service of the Filipino.’ That’s the leaning of ABS. It is more than just a business.”

On her success as a fund-raiser. “I am a very heart-based person and therein lies my success. Because the Philippines is a heart-based country, when you go with your heart and you have data and projects that have succeeded, plus people feel you really care, it is a recipe for success in fundraising.  We are not a technical people. We are not planners. You hit home when you appeal to the heart. That’s my experience.”

“Being born in a position of privilege and social status brings with it a considerable amount of responsibility. It’s like my mission in life. I want to do something great, to do something for the country because I’m in a position to do it. I’m not interested in business, but I want to have money (for my causes).”

At DENR, her rule was: “It is the duty of the state to make sure our people are well taken care of. That’s in the Constitution. So, when mining companies use the people’s land, it is the duty of mining companies to take care of them. You kill their livelihoods, you pay them. In my confirmation hearing, I was questioned for over an hour about the constitutional rights of miners. But what about the constitutional rights of the farmers?”

As head of the Cabinet cluster on the environment: “The problem with government is you make changes on the top and you get so caught up with things up there, but there’s no effort to work together on the ground level. Hence, there is no area development effort with the objective to eradicate poverty.  If government worked together on the ground level, we could eradicate poverty in one year. But it won’t happen if the agencies don’t work together on the ground.”

During her brief stay in government, her most profound learning was, “It is not the money that makes the difference, it is the heart. At DENR, I had P26 billion, 14,000 employees. I had so much money.  But if the people on the ground don’t care, if they don’t connect to the people, the ideas you have will not result in cost effectiveness. So, the key to making a difference is the heart. It’s the caring.”

Her non-negotiable performance indicator is people’s lives. “If their lives don’t improve, consider yourself a failure. My experience is if there is no commitment to values, no area development effort will work. If you just look at income and expenditures -- all numbers-- all of that doesn’t work without a commitment to values.  If you’re just thinking of money, what will happen is when nobody is looking, you steal. And people will make use of the opportunity because they have to survive. But when you raise them to a higher level and give them a dream of a world where people care for each other, and all the other things you give them fit into that dream, that’s what we want to implement -- the bigger dream that will give us the performance indicator we want on the ground level.”

“The key to deliverance at the ground level is the anchoring on higher values. That’s our nobility. That’s who we are.”

To non-believers: “I’m going to show them and come up with models where love is the foundation, and I will give them performance indicators of the economy, health, peace and order, which exceed theirs many times over. Then they can tell me that love doesn’t work. Love should be the main discerning factor whenever decisions are made, not the money or whatever else. If you care for others, you will make the right decision.”

GINA LOPEZ

LOVE

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