Regina “Gina” Lopez was always in a rush- in her words and deeds. It was as if her life would not be too long. She was right; she was dead at 65 last Monday.
Great people do not hanker for fame and fortune- they yearn only for significance. The aim not for buildings, cash and stocks-they only target for legacy. Gina was one of them.
There are few Filipina women we know in this life that made as much impact as Gina Lopez did. There are only a few woman-warriors that had shown so much bravery and selflessness for causes affecting others than Gina Lopez did. There are but a few billionaires (assets) who can remain humble off and on camera and remain happy amidst raging conflicts in their midst than Regina.
When Gina talked for a day with then newly-elected president Rody Duterte in Davao City about what is wrong with the environment in the Philippines, he had little doubt thereafter that Lopez was the right person for the DENR (Department of Energy and Natural Resources).
Hammer and tongs she went against environment violators and mining vultures as DENR boss that she received endless death threats. Pressure and perhaps money stopped her confirmation as DENR head at the Commission on Appointments.
But “Love conquers all” seems to be Gina’s anthem. She left her family for 20 years at a young age to become a missionary-celibate of the Ananda Marga (founded in 1955 in India) an organization for personal development in order to be of service to others. She slept on floors, gave up her designer clothes and became a vegetarian, a woman full of self-abnegation and discipline in the dingy corners, living with the dirt-poor people of Portugal, India, and Africa.
For Gina being an environmental gladiator was not loving the environment per se. It was her belief that taking care of the environment will eventually help people lead better lives especially the poor. Rightly, she was appointed the head of the ABSCBN Foundation (since 1989) that marshaled resources from everywhere to help those in dire need.
ABS-CBN “Bantay Kalikasan” was pivotal in the rehabilitation of the 27- kilometer Pasig River which was declared biologically dead in 1990. “The Pasig Rehabilitation Project” won for the country the Asia RiverPrize Award in 2017 beating China- by disposing 22,000 kilos of solid waste and relocating thousands of riverside dwellers.
The La Mesa Dam ecological Park is the only green forest in the asphalted jungle of Manila, one of her pet projects. Gina Lopez also lent her hand in supporting much watershed preservation and rehabilitation in the country-including those here in Bohol.
Love, likewise, made her found “Bantay Bata” Foundation to help counsel families and protect exploited children nationwide. Her love for families and kids was likewise very apparent in the way she conducted herself.
It was also out of pure love that after her rejection as permanent DENR Cabinet Secretary, she founded the I Love Foundation that transformed many islands and run-down communities to rise above their misery and become self-sustaining communities.
While being of the privileged class was tempting for Gina to just be among the crowd of the Rich and Famous- she chose the “unsexy” cause of the environment that brought her to the most unlikely places a billionaire- heiress would go to.
We were fortunate to be invited to lunch in her environmentally-friendly mansion in Quezon City in early 2017 along with Inquirer columnist Ramon Tulfo and two other female journalists. There, she showed how she walked her talk- in her plants, her vegetarian menu and using an air-conditioner-less bedroom.
We urged her then to run for the Philippine Senate for 2019 which we thought she had more than a Chinaman’s chance to be elected. Gina was hesitant as she described herself as more of a “doer and implementor” than a legislator.
The truth is Gina truly loved meeting people- and a Senate work would not offer as much interaction with the poor- especially with the underprivileged.
Her belief in natures’ gifts- I.E alternative medicine- rather than Western medicine may have partly caused the deterioration of her breast cancer to metastisized -reaching her brain which later proved to become irreversible.
In spite of Gina’s extremely busy schedule, she always made it a point to make time for her two young boys (in their 20s)- she was such a loving mother.
If Rick Warren (author) knew what finding one’s life purpose is – Gina Lopez had long found hers- making her day leading to weeks and then to months a fulfillment of her earthly assignment. “Do not do for tomorrow what you can do today” was her handy slogan- perhaps her subconscious telling her that she is running against time- hers.
Lopez had once described the beautiful sky and sun, beautiful weather in the mountains as “like heaven”. “I want to go there.”, as she seemed to have prophesied her forthcoming death.
Gina Lopez led an extraordinary life that will not be forgotten by many. A rich heiress as she is- Gina, however, lived a life which proved that one need not be poor to have a heart for the poor. Gina was meant for greatness and destined to make possible the improbable.
Gina died truly ” in the service of the nation”- the heart of a giant network.
Her theme song probably sums it all ( I Believe I Can Fly).
“And now I know the meaning of true love
If I can see it, I can be it
I believe I can fly, I believe I can touch the sky
I think about it every night and day
Spread my wings and fly away.”
Goodbye, Brave Warrior. We will let your legacy to the nation live on. Shalom!
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