By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Progressive groups have expressed their deepest condolences over the death of environmental defender and philanthropist Gina Lopez, who, in her stint as cabinet secretary on the environment acted with urgency against destructive mining and social justice.
“Generations of indigenous peoples have defended ancestral lands against the encroachment of large-scale mines and other forms of development aggression, but the concentrated power, wealth, and resources of big business and their allied politicians have made it an uphill struggle. Gina Lopez was a rare ally,” said indigenous peoples group Sandugo.
Lopez served as environment secretary under President Rodrigo Duterte. She pushed for a moratorium of large-scale mining operations. She remained resolute in her stand, despite being ganged up on by lawmakers during her appointment hearings.
Before stepping into the mainstream philanthropy work, Lopez served as a missionary for nearly two decades, working among the poor of Portugal, India, and Africa. She returned to the Philippines and headed several of ABS-CBN’s service oriented groups.
“Gina remains as the sole proof that meaningful change can be done through unabashed political will at the helm of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. We may never see someone who can unite the entire country in a rallying cry to save the environment the way Gina did ever again,” said environmental group Kalikasan.
Apart from her environment advocacies, lactation expert Nona Andaya-Castillo said Lopez, too, was a breastfeeding advocate who pushed for breastfeeding of malnourished and battered infants and children rescued by Bantay Bata.
Castillo worked with Lopez as center manager to look into the welfare of rescued infants and children. The late environment secretary would “repeatedly kissed all the babies and exclaimed that they smell so good she wanted to buy them” whenever she visited them.
“I had to resign from the job for some personal reasons but we saw each other on several events. During these encounters, she greeted me warmly and gently reminded me to dress well to be an effective advocate, ahahaha,” Castillo fondly recalled.
Sandugo expressed hopes that more public officials to have a “heart like hers.”
“Sensitive to the futures of children and ecologies, ready to defend them with passion and urgency, and unafraid to step beyond material and social trappings in extending solidarity to those suffering in the margins,” the group said.