Only the good die young. I learned today that Gina Lopez, the former Philippines environment secretary, died today of brain cancer at the age of 65. Two years ago, on assignment for Mongabay and China Dialogue, I spent several weeks with Gina in the Philippines as she fought to preserve her position in the face of reckless opposition from that country’s mining industry. She’d ordered most of the country’s open pit mines shut down because of rampant water pollution and land degradation. She also started a government-sponsored campaign to halt illegal forest cutting. And she elevated the cause of protecting the country’s magnificent marine fauna and flora to a national priority.
For some reason, perhaps because I was an American journalist, she was candid with me about her life and the political trial she was enduring. Gina had already proven her eco-activist bonafides as director of her wealthy family’s foundation. She cleaned up parts of the Pasig River and started an eco-park to preserve a forested watershed near Manila.
Gina knew that her tenure as environmental secretary would be short, which is why she went so hard at closing polluting mines. During lunch at her home she told me, “When your business goes against the common good that’s a problem. When your business interest goes against the very future of our country that’s the problem that exists. I’ve been at this a long time and no one really listened to me. Now I have this position and everyone is like, “Wow. She’s making sense.”
Her fearlessness resulted in mining safeguards that still stand and attracted global attention. In December 2017, she won the $10,000 Seacology Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious conservation awards, for her “exceptional achievement in preserving island environments and culture.”
Gina’s life is an inspiration. She’ll be missed by me and so many others who admired her.
— Keith Schneider
My articles on Gina Lopez: