MANILA - For her immediate family and colleagues, Gina Lopez was sometimes “difficult” and “overwhelming”, but they said these qualities made the Filipino philanthropist and environmentalist, who passed away last Monday, one of a kind.
Then 18-year-old Gina’s decision to leave her sheltered life in the Philippines and fly to Europe and Africa after joining the Ananda Marga religious sect did not come easy for her family.
For about two decades, Gina, the second of seven children of former ABS-CBN chairman Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr. who succumbed to cancer two decades ago, had limited communication with her family who yearned for her company.
“When Ka Geny was still alive, he would share with me that, ‘Among my children, it was Gina who was difficult,’” recalled Fr. Nilo Tanalega during a necrological mass for Gina on Wednesday evening.
“He said, ’It took me a while to deal with her. I had to fetch her very far.’ I think he had to go to Africa at the time, just to fetch her,” added Tanalega, a Jesuit priest who worked closely with the Lopezes in establishing the Gawad Geny Lopez Bayaning Pilipino Awards in 1995.
But Gina just had to leave and find a new purpose in life, for nothing could contain her.
“It is difficult, I guess, to harness the power of the sun and hold it in your hand. Gina had the power of the sun,” Tanalega said.
For her brother, ABS-CBN Publishing Inc. chief Ernie Lopez, Gina’s decision to leave everything behind was borne out of her love for people.
“She loves people so much, and she loves the country so much that she left our family,” Ernie said during Wednesday evening’s necrological rites.
“She joined Ananda Marga, and they told her, ‘You cannot restrict your love to your family alone, you must give your love to the entire world’… Because of this love she wanted to give to the whole world, she left her family.”
Ernie said Gina was so disconnected with their family that “we did not know whether she was dead or alive for 20 years.”
But as fate would have it, Gina eventually left the sect after falling in love with Sona Roy, with whom she had two sons, and went back to her homeland.
But Gina came back a different person, having lived for two years in the Kenyan slums, where water was scarce.
“It was there that I learned to value water,” Gina said in a 2016 piece for Rogue Magazine.
“When one doesn’t have much, one treasures every little bit. I lived as the poor lived, so I learned how not to be wasteful.”
Armed with a deeper sense of responsibility for humanity and the environment, Gina went on to become the head of ABS-CBN’s charitable foundation.
She became known for her work in rehabilitating the Pasig River and La Mesa Watershed, harnessing the power of the country’s largest media conglomerate to educate the people about the importance of the country’s water resources.
She also founded Bantay Bata 163, a helpline devoted to reports of cases of child abuse.
Her passion and love for the environment prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to appoint her as environment secretary. During her stint, she shut down mining operations and canceled contracts for mines she said threatened to pollute the country’s watersheds.
“She loves the environment because of what it can do for people,” said Ernie.
Behind Gina’s legacy for environmental protection and preservation was an army of dedicated people from the ABS-CBN Foundation.
The foundation’s managing director, Susan Afan, said Gina did not seem to run out of ideas and energy that, admittedly, it was sometimes too much for the people working with her.
“She was very driven, very impatient, always wanting things done yesterday. Gina was overwhelming. Her energy was literally bouncing off the walls,” Afan said.
“She hated rules. She was bored with numbers and never read any of the contracts,” she added in jest.
Despite all her boss’s flaws, Afan said she trusted the headstrong Gina because of her worthy mission.
“What can we do to give the life of Gina Lopez justice, because she has given us so much? She was a woman who did not just feel, but she acted,” she said.
For Ernie, Gina left a void that would be very hard to fill.
“If all of us make an effort, if all of us make a commitment to love God, love our neighbor, take care of the environment, [what Gina said] was really true: Our country doesn’t have to be a poor country,” he said.