By Alexandria Dennise San Juan
Stories on gratefulness and love for the environment poured Friday from people who had worked with Gina Lopez who came to pay their last respects at the first day of public viewing for the former Environment chief.
One of the stories came from Geraldine Labradore who flew from Cebu City with seven others to pay their last respects for the “eco-heroine” in their small island of Kinatarcan.
Labradore, who was part of the Southern Partners and Fair Trade Center located in Cebu, remembered how Lopez helped put their remote island on the map and also supported the livelihood of the community.
“Ma’am Gina was our development partner, actually, part of the Kinatarcan Sustainable Area Development Program that is focused on eco-tourism and building livelihood for the community,” Labradore said in an interview at the ABS-CBN Studio 10 were the wake is being held.
According to Labradore, their relationship with Lopez started with an e-mail inviting the environment activist to visit the island and explore possible partnerships with other stakeholders. She added that Lopez’ stint as the head of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) inspired them a lot.
“Upon receiving our e-mail she responded quickly, she even called me up. She said she was going to Cebu, wanted to meet us, and the rest is history.”
Labradore recalled that after that first meeting with Lopez, all of them in the community were “above the clouds and happy.”
“We were able to construct in August 2018 the facility that we call now as the Kinatarcan Wellness Resort, the first in the island, which we are trying to build as an eco-tourism site and destination.”
Through the help of Lopez, Labradore said the resort is now one of the destination sites in Cebu. The visitor traffic benefits the whole community especially the Hagdan Kinatarcan Langub Workers Association (Hakilawa) which is mostly composed of women.
“We were so inspired by her being passionate and very concerned with farmers and women. Her aim to help address poverty was also our dream.”
A teary-eyed Labradore said she will always remember Gina as an “amazing lady” who uplifted their situation in the island and gave them hope to continue the legacy that she has left for the community.
Another visitor, 68-year-old Divine Timola came all alone from Alabang, Muntinlupa to the wake in Quezon City to visit the wake of Lopez whom she described as “a brave woman who loves the country and the environment so much.”
“Every Sunday, I always watched her show where I saw how many undiscovered beautiful islands we have in the Philippines. I learned to love the country we are living in,” Timola shared.
She said it was also from Lopez where she learned about how mining negatively affects the lives of the people.
“The things that she did before will never be forgotten and I hope someone will continue her legacy of doing everything she can do to protect our environment.”
Labradore and Timola were among the many people and organizations helped and inspired by Lopez through her pro-environment advocacy and programs who lined up at the ABS-CBN Studio 10 to pay their last respects to the known “Earth-warrior.”
Lopez, who was the ABS-CBN Foundation chairman, launched Bantay Bata 163 – the first rescue hotline for children in Asia, and the Bantay Kalikasan, a program that advocates for the protection of the environment.
Her most notable achievements through Bantay Kalikasan were the successful reforestation of the La Mesa Watershed and the rehabilitation of 17 esteros of the Pasig River.
She was also the vice-chairperson of ABS-CBN Bayan Foundation which provides microfinance assistance to micro-entrepreneurs.
In June 2016, Lopez was appointed by President Duterte as DENR secretary in an ad interim basis but the Commission on Appointments formally rejected her appointment on May 2017.