By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz
A California-based conservation organization has recognized former Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez for her untiring environmental advocacy in the face of powerful opposition.
Lopez has been awarded the 2017 Seacology Prize on December 4.
Now in its 27th year, Seacology awards the $10,000 prize to individuals who have shown exceptional achievement in preserving island environments and culture.
“Gina Lopez has shown the vision and courage the Seacology Prize is meant to honor,” Seacology executive director Duane Silverstein said.
“She has fought for the Philippines environment and to give island communities there a voice in the decisions that affect their natural resources and their lives,” he added.
For more than 15 years, Lopez has been an outspoken champion of social and environmental causes in the Philippines.
She spearheaded the rehabilitation of Pasig River and nearby urban streams when she was named chair of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission. Her efforts led to the cleanup of at least 17 tributaries in the Pasig river system.
She also led a campaign to save La Mesa Watershed, a once-neglected area that contains the last remaining rainforest of its size in Metro Manila, as well as the reservoir from which 12-million people get their drinking water. It is now La Mesa Ecopark, a tree-lined park where urban dwellers can hike, fish, and ride mountain bikes or horses.
As a leader of the Save Palawan Island movement, Lopez lobbied against the environmental ravages of mining on Philippine islands. Her stance drew criticisms from the mining industry.
Those criticisms intensified in 2016, when Lopez became acting secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
She established consultations between the DENR and indigenous groups, and shut down illegal fish pens in the Laguna Lake.
She also ordered a ban on open-pit mines and moved to shut down more than half of the operations of the country’s mining companies.
These bold actions cost Lopez her job. In May 2017, the members of a congressional commission on appointments—some of whom had ties to the mining industry—voted her out.
However, she has vowed to keep fighting. She has already started I LOVE (Investments in Loving Organizations for Village Economies), to lift Filipinos out of poverty by building green businesses at the grassroots level.
“I am honored to receive an award for something I believe in and from an organization doing so much for island ecosystems,” Lopez said.
“The Philippines is a country of 7,000 islands, and I hope this award will affect the entire country. And because the Philippines has so many diverse ecosystems, and so many animals and plants that occur nowhere else, saving our islands has direct global impact as well,” she added.