MANILA — (2ND UPDATE) Malacañang mourned Monday the passing of philanthropist and environmentalist Gina Lopez, saying her advocacy "remains unparalleled to this day."
Lopez, longtime chairperson of the ABS-CBN Foundation Inc. (AFI), was a former environment secretary under President Rodrigo Duterte.
"The Palace deeply grieves the demise of one of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte's most passionate Cabinet members whose environmental advocacy and legacy remains unparalleled to this day," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement.
As Cabinet member, Lopez ordered the closure or suspension of 28 mines for violation of environment laws, following an industry-wide audit. She also threatened to cancel 75 contracts for upcoming projects.
Lopez "took the bull by the horns when she fiercely fought powerful interests in the mining sector, as well as in industries having negative effect on our ecology," said Panelo.
"She's fiercely protective of the environment. She really worked hard for that with passion, dedication and courage," he added in an ANC interview.
While they did not always see eye to eye, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said he remained friends with Lopez even after she left President Duterte's Cabinet.
"We had some slight differences on certain policies during our stint as members of the cabinet but remained as friends. We extend our condolences to the entire family and shall offer prayers for the eternal repose of her should. Rest in peace, Gina..," Medialdea said in a statement.
Lopez served 10 months as Duterte’s first environment secretary before her appointment was rejected by lawmakers, despite her appeal that the environment should be prioritized over business interests, and despite Duterte’s public remarks supporting her.
Unbowed, Lopez erupted into one of her favorite songs, the inspirational classic "I believe I can fly."
After her government stint, Lopez started an organization called I LOVE or Investments in Loving Organizations for Village Economies, which she hoped would facilitate “green models” throughout the country.
Panelo said Lopez visited his office 2 months ago because "she wanted the government to help her advocacy."
"She's always thinking of how to uplift the status of life of poor folks," said the Palace official.
"She would be greatly missed," he added in his statement.
Lopez became known for her work in rehabilitating the Pasig River and La Mesa Watershed. As an advocate for children's rights, she also founded the Bantay Bata 163, a helpline devoted to reports of cases of child abuse.
She was the 1997 International Public Relations Awardee for Excellence for the Environment and the 2009 Outstanding Manilan Awardee for the Environment.
In lieu of flowers and mass cards, the family requests that donations be made to the ABS-CBN Foundation. There will be a public viewing at the La Mesa Eco Park on Aug. 22 to 23.