Gina Lopez (1953-2019): "The Greatest Thing Is the Possibility of Making a Difference"
Earlier today, ABS-CBN News announced the passing of philanthropist and environmentalist Gina Lopez.
Lopez was the second child of Eugenio Lopez II and Conchita La'O Taylor. She was the Chairman of the ABS-CBN Foundation and former Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
"With Gina’s passing, we 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," the ABS-CBN statement reads. "Her caring heart and selfless kind of love inspired people within and beyond the organization to help and serve others."
Gina Lopez lived a life nothing short of incredible and meaningful. Lopez was Town&Country's cover subject in September 2010. In the wake of her passing, we revisit the cover story by Lorna Kalaw Tirol, looking back at the legacy Lopez leaves behind through her work as a missionary, chairman of the ABS-CBN Foundation, chairperson of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission, and more.
"You have to be always committed to the truth, especially when you get to a position of power. I have found that as long as I’m aligned, as long as I’m doing things which are true, even if I make mistakes, miracles happen every day."
In her teens, Regina Paz “Gina” Lopez took her first leap into the big world and moved to the United States to pursue her studies at the Newton College of the Sacred Heart in Boston. After college, she left all the comforts of the life that she knew and traveled to India to become a missionary for a socio-spiritual movement called Ananda Marga. The organization then sent her packing for a mission in Africa. Over the course of two decades, she traveled to Portugal and India, apart from Africa. She married her superior in the African mission and together they had two sons. In the time that she was away, “her family didn’t know where she was or even whether she was still alive,” Tirol wrote.
In 1990, the Lopez family welcomed their daughter back in time for a Christmas reunion. “I had a really hard time adjusting,” she recalled of her first few years back in the Philippines. Lopez went from sleeping on the ground and walking barefoot in India to having to deal with all the societal pressures that come with being a Lopez. “There you were, so busy because you to do everything yourself and then you come home and everything’s done for you. And you’re a Lopez. There, you didn’t have to worry about clothes—I had only two sets and a pair of tsinelas and some and all of a sudden I had to dress up. I had no idea what to wear. I was totally out of it.”
But soon enough, she found her footing and began to make waves through the ABS-CBN Foundation, of which she was appointed general manager. Her years as a missionary were put to good use and through the corporation’s philanthropic arm, she worked to serve the needy, distributing relief goods to disaster victims and establishing scholarships. Her good deeds reached authorities such as the United Nations. In 1997, her initiative, the 24-hour hotline Bantay Bata 163, was named the United Nations Grand Awardee for Excellence. She was also the driving force behind educational programs Sine’skwela, MathTinij, Epol/Apple, Pahina, and Hirayamanawari. For producing Sine’skwela, she became the first Southeast Asian to earn the UNESCO Kalinga Award.
“The greatest thing is the possibility of making a difference,” she said.
A natural giver, Lopez had also extended her working hands to help the environment, another passion that would be greatly associated with her until the time of her passing. In 1998, she founded Bantay Kalikasan, most popularly known for rehabilitating the 2,700-hectare La Mesa Watershed. This would later lead to the establishment of La Mesa Eco Park and the initiatives Bantay-Usok and Bantay-Baterya.
After La Mesa, her brother, Gabby Lopez suggested she use her talents to clean up Pasig River. A week later, she received a call from former first lady Amelita Ramos, requesting her to take over since she was beginning to wind down. It was all or nothing for this eco-warrior. Lopez agreed to take on the Herculean task only if then-DENR secretary Lito Atienza would hand over the responsibilities for Pasig, Laguna Lake, and Manila Bay as well. Her demands were met.
“I became increasingly aware that it was more than just cleaning the water of a river,” she said back in 2010, “It was connected to our history, to our identity. Cleaning the river is really more about reconnecting to the essence of what we are. We are essentially a river people, taga-ilog, and for a river people to live in filth goes against our very soul.”
After much success, she was appointed by former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to head the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC). Despite her accomplishments in this endeavor, she remained humble and credited those who worked with her. “All I do is connect the dots and touch the part in them that can be touched, and then we work together without any agenda. Everyone has some equity to put on the table,” she believed.
"I would say the number one commandment is to take everything positively, because the moment you become cynical you stop growing, and the best human life is the one that’s interactive with the divine."
Lopez was also a recognized force in the anti-mining movement and her work to save Palawan from the large-scale mining had caught the attention of many, including current President Rodrigo Duterte. The President invited Lopez to be the secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and she accepted. As environment secretary, she continued her crusade against mining, lobbied for the indigenous people, and established a DENR hotline that created a way for the public to address their issues to the government office. She served as secretary for all of nine months, after failing to get a majority vote from the Commission on Appointments.
But even before she took on the role of Secretary, Lopez perceived her responsibilities through a lens of virtue. “It’s having the clarity of vision to know what’s best for you. It puts a primer on integrity, on being aligned with what is true, which is very important to me. There is a higher truth and it’s not intellectual and energetic, and we have to align our energy with that. You have to be always committed to the truth, especially when you get to a position of power. I have found that as long as I’m aligned, as long as I’m doing things which are true, even if I make mistakes, miracles happen every day. I would say the number one commandment is to take everything positively, because the moment you become cynical you stop growing, and the best human life is the one that’s interactive with the divine.”
“Making a difference gets me on a high,” she told Tirol. “At this point in my life I am doing something that is needed. My life is filled with blessings, and even the difficulties, the challenges, are opportunities to grow. I look at myself five years ago and I know I’ve really shifted. I’m more gutsy but I also feel more. I can feel people, I can feel their pains, and I can feel their energy, the web of life.”
In her own words, she expressed the happiness she had encountered in her years. “Life is beautiful,” she said.
The ABS-CBN Foundation announced today that a memorial service will be held for her at La Mesa Eco Park from August 22 to 23.
*Quotes from this story were taken from the September 2010 issue of Town&Country Philippines.