By Rommel Lopez

Photo by Vladlynn Nona Maryse L. Tadeo

Government officials and various groups paid tribute to the life and legacy of philanthropist and environmentalist Regina Paz “Gina” Lopez, who passed way on Monday, Aug. 19 at Makati Medical Center following a bout with brain cancer. She was 65.

Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo lauded Lopez, who was President Rodrigo Duterte’s first environment secretary, calling her a crusader for the poor against big businesses.

“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,” he said.

Panelo said Lopez would be “greatly missed,” calling her a “warrior and advocate” who “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,” he said.

“We fervently pray for the Almighty to grant her eternal repose. May the perpetual light shine upon her,” he added.

Fr. Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ National Secretariat on Social Action, Justice and Peace, said Lopez “lived her life to the full.”

“We grieve for Gina Lopez. But we too are grateful for the gift of life, spent for a worthy cause… a life of sincere commitment to what truly matters,” he said.

The Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM)-Philippines also praised Lopez for her “passionate commitment to care for our common home”.

“You will always be remembered by the Filipino people with love and gratitude,” the GCCM-Philippines said.

In a statement, ABS-CBN Corp. said it “profoundly mourns the passing of Lopez, who was chairman of ABS-CBN Foundation.

“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 statement said.

Born into the influential Lopez family, owner of ABS-CBN and First Philippine Holdings, Lopez chose to leave her affluent life to become a yoga missionary in Portugal, India and Africa.

She joined the Ananda Marga movement and worked at pre-primary schools and children’s homes for the poor.

Lopez went back to the Philippines to head the ABS-CBN Foundation, where she led various corporate social responsibility projects such as Bantay Bata, Sineskwela and Bantay Kalikasan, among others.

Her work was cited by many institutions. She was United Nations Grand Awardee for Excellence in 1997, and won the the International Public Relations Award of Excellence for the Environment the same year.

She was the first Southeast Asian to receive the Unesco Kalinga Award, and was a recipient of an honorary doctorate in the humanities from Ateneo de Naga.

In 2016, after listening to Lopez’s one-on-one lecture on crafting a national environmental policy, then president-elect Duterte offered the environment and national resources portfolio to Lopez, which she accepted after a few days.

However, she failed to secure the Commission on Appointments’ nod, which her supporters attributed to her relentless campaign against mining. Lopez had ordered an audit of all mining operations, which was blocked by her colleagues in the Duterte Cabinet.