Lopez, whose full name was Regina Paz La’O Lopez, was known for her tireless environmental work across the globe. In her country, she was particularly focused on cracking down on the coal industry and cleaning up the water systems.
Lopez’s Twitter profile depicts a profoundly dedicated environmentalist and a relentless optimist whose cover photo reads: “If I can see it, I can do it. If I just believe it, there’s nothing to it. I believe I can fly.”
According to Rappler, Lopez had been battling brain cancer in recent months, though her official cause of death was multiple organ failure.
Following news of her death, ABS-CBN Foundation (of which she was the chairperson for many years) released the following statement:
“Gina was the pillar of strength that pushed AFI to achieve what seemed to be impossible. Her caring heart and selfless kind of love inspired people within and beyond the organization to help and serve others…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.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Lopez Ordered the Closure of 23 Mines in an Effort to Eradicate Pollution
Lopez was the environment secretary of the Philippines for 10 months under President Rodrigo Duterte, until May 2017. Her appointment ended after the Commission on Appointments rejected it.
During her time as Environment Secretary, Lopez ordered the closure of 23 mines and called for five more to suspend operations, per The New York Times. She canceled 75 mining contracts as well, because she claimed they threatened watersheds.
According to Rappler, during Lopez’s first speech as Environment Secretary, she said, “The best way to protect the environment is to improve people’s lives. That’s my experience.”
Per ABS-CBN, Lopez was known for her efforts to crack down on the mining industry, rehabilitate the Pasig River and the La Mesa Watershed, and more. ABS-CBN’s current company chairman, Mark Lopez (a cousin of Lopez), said, “At an age when people are just figuring out what they want to do in life, she already knew her purpose. She left a comfortable life to devote her time and energy to help uplift other people’s lives.”
Mark continued, “When she returned to join ABS-CBN, she instilled in her people the same drive to help. For her, nothing cannot be done, no effort is too small, anybody can — and should — do their part in making the world a better place.”
Lopez went to the United States for college. She attended Assumption College and Newton College of the Sacred Heart in Massachusetts, and also went on to get a master’s degree in Development Management.
2. Lopez Was a Noted Philantrphist Who Founded Multiple Charitable Organizations While Dreaming of a ‘Country Without Poverty’
In addition to her work with the ABS-CBN Foundation, Lopez also founded Bantay Bata 163, a helpline aimed at helping people report instances of child abuse.
Lopez also founded Investments in Loving Organizations for Village Economies, an organization that seeks to lift communities out of poverty by establishing environmentally conscious businesses in the area.
In an essay she wrote for Rogue Media, Lopez explained what her mission in life meant to her.
She wrote, “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.”
In addition to all of her philanthropic work, Lopez somehow found time for television work as well. She produced multiple educational videos and shows for high schoolers, covering a range. These subjects include math, history, and English; you can see clips of them on her Twitter feed.
3. Lopez Made History as the 1st Filipino to Win the Prestigious Seacology Prize
In 2017, Lopez was the first Filipino to be awarded the prestigious Seacology Prize. The international prize honors someone who has made an impact on bettering their environment. The awards committee specifically noted her efforts to end open-pit mining, as well as establishing consultations between the Filipino government and indigenous communities.
Lopez said she would donate her $10,000 prize to charity. As seen in the video above, Lopez said of the award, “When an international organization gives credit to activity like this, it sends a message to everyone in the Philippines that the world thinks that this is important.”
You can read the full press release on Lopez’s award announcement here.
Seacology’s executive director, Duane Silverstein, offered the following statement: “Gina Lopez has shown the vision and courage the Seacology Prize is meant to honor. 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.”
4. Lopez Met Her Ex-Husband While Working as a Yoga Missionary in Africa
According to Rogue Media, Lopez met her ex-husband while doing missionary work in Africa. Lopez was a yoga missionary for 20 years, traveling through India and then Africa.
Her title was “Didi,” she told ABS-CBN in a profile, and the experience was her first time stepping outside of her self-proclaimed “bubble” of privilege. She said, “I had to stand in line for water for hours for a bucket of water, and I had to use that bucket of water to wash my hair and take a shower. I think that’s what Africa taught me: a dislike for wasting.”
Lopez’s husband was her boss, she explained in another essay, though she didn’t clarify what exact role he held or at what point they met. However, they eventually married and had two sons together. To Rogue Media, Lopez wrote, “I eventually had to go home since I fell in love with my husband, who at the time was my boss. One can’t have relationships with the opposite sex as a missionary.”
In her Rogue Media essay, Lopez also offered up some reflections on what she’d learned in life so far; she was 62 years old at the time. She wrote:
Life is what you make of it. The experience of life is how you see it. You can see it negatively or you can see even the seeming failures as a positive opportunity to grow. If we take on this positive bent, everyone around benefits. My consistent experience in life is that as long as one commits to integrity and service, there are Divine Forces that help. I feel it everyday, when I meditate in the morning, as I do my work. Life is a challenge. There are also negative forces that exist, and they are within one’s self. One needs to be keenly aware of them.
5. Lopez Is Being Mourned as a ‘Warrior’ Whose ‘Spirit Lives on in the Movement’ She Helped Build
In the wake of Lopez’s death, many people across the world are mourning the loss of such a bright star — but none more than the Filipinos who saw and felt her impact.
One user wrote, “Thank You Gina Lopez for being an environmental warrior. You did a lot in our country”
Another user wrote, “She came up to me and said, ‘You have to protect your lake. We can help you do that. Lake Lanao is beautiful and it’s an asset of this country.’ She’s that humble. Thank you, Ma’am Gina. Thank you for the inspiration. Rest in Peace. #GinaLopez”
Many of Lopez’s associated organizations have since released statements as well. Greenpeace Philippines offered up the following statement:
[The earth] lost a warrior…But her spirit lives on in the movement that she so helped build. Those of us she left behind will continue to forge on for a better environment, the protection of people’s rights, and better lives for the Filipino people. Heeding Gina’s exemplar, we will not be cowed by the greed and arrogance of those who destroy the environment.”
According to ABS-CBN, the Lopez family is asking for donations to the foundation in lieu of any flowers. You can learn more about the foundation here.