FORMER Environment Secretary Gina Lopez has been awarded the 2017 Seacology Prize by the US-based nonprofit environmental conservation organization in recognition of her untiring environmental advocacy in the face of powerful opposition.
She received $10,000 as part of the prize.
Lopez was recognized in awarding ceremonies held at the Shangri-la hotel in Makati city on Monday night. She was initially awarded the prize on October 5 at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California where the Seacology head office is.
Now on its 27th year, Seacology gives the award to someone who has shown exceptional achievement in preserving island environments and culture.
“Gina Lopez has shown the vision and courage the Seacology is meant to honor. She has fought for the Philippines environment and to give island communities there a voice in the decisions that affect their natural resources and their lives,” Seacology’s executive director Duane Silverstein said.
For more than 15 years, Lopez has been an outspoken champion of social and environmental causes. When she spearheaded the rehabilitation of the polluted Pasig river and nearby urban streams, she was named head of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission. Her efforts there led to the cleanup of at least 17 tributaries in the Pasig river system.
The former DENR chief also led a campaign to save La Mesa Watershed, a once-neglected area that contains the last remaining rainforest of its size in Metro Manila, as well as the reservoir from which 12 million people get their drinking water. It is now La Mesa Ecopark, a tree-lined park where urban dwellers can hike, fish, and ride mountain bikes or horses.
As a leader of the Save Palawan Island movement, Lopez lobbied against the environmental ravages of mining on Philippine islands. Her stance drew criticism from the powerful mining industry. That criticism intensified in 2016 when she became acting secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). She established the first-ever forums for consultations between the DENR and indigenous groups, and shut down illegal fish pens in the country’s largest lake. But her strongest actions were directed squarely at mining operations, especially heavily polluting nickel mines. She banned open-pit mines and moved to shut down more than half of the operations of the country’s mining companies.
These bold actions cost Lopez her job. In May 2017, members of the Commission on Appointments, some of whom had ties to the mining industry, voted her out.
Lopez however vowed to keep fighting. She has started I lOVE (Investments in Loving Organizations for Village Economies) to lift Filipinos out of poverty by building green businesses at the grassroots level.
“I am honored to receive an award for something I believe in and from an organization doing so much for island ecosystems,” Lopez said.
“The Philippines is a country of 7,000 islands, and I hope this award will affect the entire country. And because the Philippines has so many diverse ecosystems, and so many animals and plants that occur nowhere else, saving our islands has direct global impact as well,” she added.