By Rose de la Cruz
HER rejection by the Commission on Appointments as Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) made Regina Paz “Gina” La’O Lopez, larger in the eyes of environmentalists and the masses living at the fringes of mountains and hills being flattened and ravaged by mining and other forms of exploitation.
But will this larger (than life) image sustain her to 2019 (should she run for the senate) or even 2022 if she runs for either vice president or president of the republic? Of course time will tell and events of her making will also dictate whether public favor will lead her to higher offices in the years to come.
Lopez—during her 10- month stint at DENR—won the hearts of many people’s organizations, church groups and environmental saviors but she definitely pissed off several vested interests (in mining among them) which have entrenched themselves in crucial legislative (and executive) positions. She even became disagreeable, if not totally hostile, to media entities other than ABS-CBN, which her family continues to own.
She was not receptive to questions that do not suit her aura for the moment and calls those who don’t share her ideas (and visions) as “anti- poor” and “anti-environment.” (She quickly branded me such when I reminded her in the first presscon when she announced the mining closures that she would not pass CA and should not even be certain of President Duterte’s unequivocal support for her).
Aside from her columns at Philippine Star and her family-owned ABS-CBN network, Lopez maintains public presence in social media—twitting and posting at her Facebook page—to ensure that people will not forget her, although she professes disdain for politics.
While having a protected and pampered life in Manila, Lopez turned away from these at 18 and became a missionary in Portugal, India and Africa. In an essay she wrote for Rogue last March, she recalled her ashram (meditation) years where she learned that a hard life can be a good thing.
She spent 11 years (two of which were in the slums of Kenya) in Africa where she met her now (late) husband, her boss, but the marriage lasted only eight years. She bore two sons—Benj (20) and Roberto (24)—and it was on returning to Manila that she learned about her pregnancy, she said.
Her role as Ananda Marga yoga missionary was to teach yoga-run pre-primary schools and children in homes for the underprivileged. It was here that she learned how not to be wasteful with what she has and the quality of persistence. “Hardship has its value,” she said.
“In the 20 years I was a missionary, I never experienced lack of money or food. It was not a luxurious life, but I always had enough for basic needs,” she said in her column.
What keeps Lopez busy these days is the ABS-CBN Foundation (with which she worked for 26 years); she is chairman of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission; the ABS-CBN Bayan Foundation, which provides microfinance assistance to micro entrepreneurs and she is also chairman emeritus of Southeast Asian Children’s Television.
Her Bantay Bata 163, the country’s first media-based hotline, won a UN Grand Award for Excellences besting 187 countries in 1997; she established Bantay Kalikasan for which she received the 1997 International Public Relations Award of Excellence for Envionment and Outstanding Manilans award for the environment; she produced educational TV shows on science, math, values, history and English for elementary and Philippine literature for high school.
Her Sineskwela reaped her the UNESCO Kalinga award, the first Southeast Asian to earn such a distinction
Lopez also initiated the rehabilitation of the Pasig River and nearby urban streams through the Kapit Bisig para sa Ilog Pasig project and was also responsible for the reforestation of La Mesa Watershed Reservation, the last remaining forest zone in Metro Manila.
She organized Bayanijuan (Country of Juan) and the Save Palawan Movement along with partner organizations and gathered 7 million signatures for a petition for protection of key biodiversity areas and against mining.
She maintains her vehement anti-mining stance and her advocacy against fossil fuels and coal and energy sources.
Her passion is to take care of the environment and address the poverty in the country. “I remain convinced that we can have a country without poverty if we take care of the environment and institute mechanisms wherein the community around benefits. I have been able to do it in a few sites where the communities are able to send their kids to college in the second year, so I know it can be done.”
Now, at 62, Lopez believes that “as long as one commits to integrity and service, there are Divine Forces that help.”
I just hope the same ‘Divine Forces’ will help her land a higher position where her advocacies for the environment and to eradicate poverty will have bigger impacts.