Former Environment Secretary Gina Lopez's death on August 19 instantly reminded us of what the great French author Albert Camus said of the death of his crusading colleague, poet and journalist Rene Leynaud, at the height of the French Resistance in the 1940s: When Leynaud died, the French lost a powerful voice against oppression.
In an article which he wrote for an underground paper called "Combat in October 1944," Camus said of Leynaud: “For the man we loved will never speak again. And yet France needed voices like him. His exceptionally proud heart, protected by his faith, and his sense of honor, would have found the words we needed.”
There would be other voices, he said. But no one had the right to speak, said Camus, until he made a personal sacrifice. Like Leynaud. Like Gina Lopez.
Gina is dead, and the country has lost a voice against environmental degradation.
Up until her death, Gina was the face of ABS-CBN's public service, a champion of the common Filipino, a tireless protector of children’s rights, and a fiery patron of sustainable eco-tourism. She traveled across the country to help and inspire the poor, teaching them to earn a living out of the hardly-appreciated but bountiful resources around them.
Gina is gone, and the country will miss her voice, especially at a time when Mother Nature has been manifesting violently her displeasure over man’s rampant abuse of her through one disastrous flood and killer typhoon after another, year after year. Ondoy in Metro Manila in September 2009 and Yolanda in Tacloban in November 2013 were akin to Nature’s wrath as written in the Old Testament.
When President Duterte appointed her environment secretary, Gina gave voice to the anti-mining advocates, including the indigenous people and marginalized farmers, saying that mining had to slow down to prevent more disasters, all expectedly of biblical proportions.
Probably because she was racing against time, Gina was laceratingly honest at times. "In mining, a few people who already have lots of money, benefit. They do it at the expense of our farmers, of our fishermen. I mean you can't show me any mining area where our farmers or fishermen have not suffered," she said in an interview before launching her crusade against mining in 2016.
She was not a passive eco-warrior. In her time as environment chief, she closed down 23 mining sites and cancelled 75 other lucrative mining contracts, all owned by the big players in the mining industry, which she said threatened the watersheds..
She could be hectoring, even at the risk of hurting herself. "That's your brother's mine, sir,” she said, addressing an influential member of the powerful Commission on Appointments ruling on her appointment in May 2017. “Because sir, you know they've been mining this for 20 years, and the mountain was really big and the mountain got small, and that's not legal at all, you've totally killed the mountain. Tell your brother he totally killed the mountain." The commission rejected her appointment.
Gina was not unlike the Mother of Perpetual Help to cash-strapped non-government organizations. “She gets things done,” said Beau Baconguis of Global Alliance for Incinerators Alternatives, in a meeting early this year with this newsman and fellow environmentalists Lea Guerrero of GreenPeace and Jed Alegado of Break Free From Plastic. They recalled how Gina screamed for help at some people in high places to implement an environmental program in faraway Kinatarcan Island in Northern Cebu: “Governor, we need a helicopter here.” They had no doubts about Gina’s voice and value, selfless as they were in their own environmental struggles.
The first daughter of industrialist Eugenio 'Geny' Lopez Jr., Gina left a comfortable life at age 18 to live among the poor of Pakistan, India and Africa, to the consternation of her family. She left the family home where she had people at her beck and call and chose to stay in Africa for 20 years, falling in line each day for food and water among the Great Unwashed. This could be among the reasons why she was obsessed to keep La Mesa Dam watershed intact.
Some people sometimes called her crazy. In a nation where there are too many get-rich-quick schemes and scams, Gina, an heiress to the Lopez business empire, was probably so, but she spotted early enough social injustice, the Great Divide between the rich and poor. That was in 1971, early into the Marcos dictatorship, and Gina probably thought, even ahead of her folks who fought Marcos, that there was something wrong with Philippine society.
Indeed, she could probably be so. She could have partied all night, but she chose to lead the effort to clean the dirtiest river in Metro Manila--the river by the Pasig, repository of all kinds of wastes, from people who wouldn’t want to clean it by themselves. Thanks to this woman.
She traveled the countryside, producing an environmental show called “G Diaries.” She tried to draw attention and support to people in lands from far North to far South where she helped raise farm, food products, all organically grown, and all under the label “G Stuff”.
Her work now seems to have outlived her. Since the news of her death broke out last Monday, there have been many people, in and out of television, talking about her, recalling how she helped them or inspired them. Before and after she died, there has always been someone with a kind story about Gina, whose life she might have touched.
By this time, those who knew Gina Lopez only from a distance now know what they missed. Those who knew her long enough know what they have lost. They lost a voice. And they passionately expressed so, as passionate as Camus when he lost his Leynaud in the middle of their fight against another kind of degradation.
At this time of environmental destruction, every person who fights for God’s creations is precious.
But after revealing her greatness, the God of all creations took away this woman under tragic conditions. It is probably meant to emphasize the meaning of her life so that it may leave an everlasting influence on those she left behind.
“God exists. He does, he does, whether you believe it or not. He does exist,’’ she told ABS-CBN anchor Tina Monzon Palma in her last interview on July 12.
“And if you can go into the quiet of your heart, you will feel that love is with you every single micro-second of the day, like every single micro-second of your existence. That love is there for you and it is here for you unconditionally. And may it continue to hold us, and may it continue to nurture us and propel us into creating a piece of heaven in this country.”
Rest in peace, Gina Lopez. Adieu!
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.