Gina Lopez impressed Fil-Ams even before her gov’t service
DALY CITY – Activism has lost a champion with the passing of Gina Lopez, who dedicated her life to making her country healthier and safer for all, especially the vulnerable.
The celebrated environmentalist and philanthropist would have marked her 66th birthday on December 27. She left this world on August 19, but not before making a final appeal to peers and benefactors to commit to continuing their work, says an intimate.
Just last January, she launched I LOVE or Investments in Loving Organizations for Village Economies, a movement to combat poverty through grass-roots businesses respectful of the environment. She had formed Quest for Love, pairing eight organizations with a mentor to work in partnership to support a community.
I wish I had been there to listen to her impassioned plea to join her in saving the natural and constructed wonders of our native land, for our children and their children to behold and visit and revel in, no matter where they replant their roots.
The last time I saw her was at another of her many presentations to prospective allies and supporters of her peaceful revolution for change – for the better. Before that I watched her thank the multitude gathered at church in Burlingame, California, to pay last respects to her father, Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr.: In her grief, she stood strong and brave and eloquent. The same illness stole both of them too soon.
Even though I had married into her clan and we shared a passion to serve through education, our paths hardly crossed as we lived on opposite sides of the globe. We followed the beat of a different drum.
As associate editor of South San Francisco-based Philippine News in 1985, I debated with a columnist who had the fortune of sharing a ride somewhere in Africa with a stranger who happened to be a Filipina, he wrote. The columnist related that his fellow passenger was in the continent with her husband as missionaries of the socio-spiritual Hindu organization Ananda Marga, teaching yoga and earliest education to children of folks in need. She lived her creed by example: “Service to humanity is service to God.”
That path she chose was remarkable unto itself. What astounded the columnist even more was the life his new acquaintance had left to fulfill her calling. He went on to detail the accomplishments of her industrialist grandfather and his politician brother, how her father was arrested and imprisoned, their families singled out by the Marcos regime for giving platform in their media network to oppositionists, among many allegations.
I immediately recognized the object of his awe and quickly read through the copy to find her name but did not. To protect her and her family, I think he replied when I asked why the omission. He thought he was doing them a favor. I said I was certain she – and her relatives – had nothing to hide and in fact would have been proud to share her story.
“People Power” was not yet coined let alone a credulous recourse against the repressive regime at that time. Her parents, their siblings and their families had sought refuge in California, under constant watch of the dictatorship’s eyes and ears. The column ran minus the subject’s identity, which was no secret to anyone who knew her.
After the fall of the Marcos dictatorship, the Lopezes and their allies returned to their beloved homeland to restore democracy and rebuild their lives.
Her family reorganized and revitalized their many enterprises, but for Gina Lopez, the natural inclination was humanitarian, above all. As managing director of ABS-CBN Foundation, she mothered Bantay Bata 163, a pioneering program that received the 1997 United Nations Grand Awardee for Excellence as a media-based hotline for reporting incidences of child abuse, exploitation and neglect. She also founded Bantay Kalikasan, environmental arm of ABS-CBN Lingkod KapamilyaFoundation.
The mother to two sons prioritized projects for children, producing educational television shows on Science, Math, Values, History and English for elementary and Philippine Literature for high school.
She was vice chair of ABS-CBN Bayan Foundation, providing funding to micro-entrepreneurs.
In recent years, her attention turned to the environment, focusing on the rehabilitation of the mythical Pasig River and reforestation of the La Mesa Watershed Reservation, Metro Manila’s last forest zone.
Her Bayanijuan launched the Save Palawan Movement that gathered 7 million signatures for a petition against mining and to protect key biodiversity areas.
Her efforts drew the attention of Pres. Rodolfo Duterte who appointed her Secretary of the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources days after a courtesy visit to Malacanan where she gave a presentation on the urgent need for better environmental protection policies.
The granddaughter of the visionary who literally electrified the Philippines became an advocate for 100% renewable energy as she declared the end to mining operations in Palawan, launching a landmark DENR hotline for reporting environmental violations.
Her policies challenged mining companies and vexed their lawmaker friends, effectively ending Ms. Lopez’s tenure as Cabinet secretary when the Senate voted down her confirmation. By then she had sparked concern for natural resources and awakened consciousness toward preservation and protection. And inspired people from all walks of life to take ownership and responsibility of the only home they have. She was an Earth Angel.
“So fierce in her love of for her country, so focused, so brimful of energy and love,” her aunt and namesake MaríaPaz “Tootsie” Moreno offered praise.
“Let’s honor her by living out environment-friendly practices in our own lives and our community….and spreading the love,” Manila event producer Mary Anne Gomez paid tribute to her classmate at Assumption.
“She raised the bar for exceptional behavior, set the template for us to follow. May we do so in our own unique ways, always with love,” said Las Vegas-based Mona Misa Cladis who met Gina Lopez as batchmates with the Youth for Understanding international exchange program.
Regina Paz La’O Lopez was the eldest daughter of Eugenio Moreno Lopez Jr. and the former Conchita La’O’s seven children. She attended Assumption College before enrolling in Newton College of the Sacred Heart in Massachusetts. She earned a master’s in developmental management at the Asian Institute of Management.