Magazine article New Internationalist

Gina Lopez

Magazine article New Internationalist

Gina Lopez

Article excerpt

'We have the most beautiful country: 7,000 islands with coral reefs, mountains, rivers and forests with rare medicinal plants. We have the highest biodiversity on the planet. But our people are not benefiting from it. It is being destroyed because someone wants gold or nickel,' says Gina Lopez in one long gulp, on a Skype interview from the Philippines.

Lopez, the country's former environment secretary, has made it her mission to protect the immense biodiversity of the Philippines while, at the same time, promoting social justice - a daunting task in a country where big business calls the shots.

Within days of taking office, the fiery and fearless minister challenged the powerful mining industry, which is polluting the islands' vital watersheds.

'Yes, mining creates a few jobs and perhaps a few schools, and a few people enrich themselves, but thousands suffer and water sources are polluted for generations afterward. Mining is just greed and selfishness.'

The maverick daughter of one of the country's wealthiest and most prominent families, 64-year-old Lopez is both an environmentalist and a philanthropist. She fled the Philippines in 1972 to avoid political persecution under the Marcos regime, but returned in 1986 after being educated in the US, becoming a yoga master, and then working with disadvantaged communities in Africa. In 2017, she received the Seacology Prize, awarded to those showing exceptional achievement in preserving island environments and culture.

For more than 15 years, Lopez has championed social and environmental causes, spearheading the clean-up of the Pasig River, which was choked by trash and sewage, and campaigning to save La Mesa Watershed, which contains the last rainforest in Manila, as well as a reservoir used by 12 million people for drinking water.

In 2010, on a visit to the Edenic Palawan Island, she discovered the destructive nature of open-pit mining. 'When the chopper took me there, I saw a huge hole in the ground. I was horrified. The farmers and fishermen were crying. They couldn't fish, they couldn't grow food. And there were some 100 new applications for open-pit mining, so I set up the Save Palawan movement to oppose them.'

In 2016, Lopez was appointed as acting secretary of the Philippines' Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) by the then newly elected, authoritarian President Rodrigo Duterte. …

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