Gina Lopez, former Philippines environment secretary, wins Seacology Prize
In recognition of her untiring environmental advocacy in the face of powerful opposition, Regina Paz (Gina) Lopez of the Philippines has been awarded the 2017 Seacology Prize. Seacology awards the $10,000 prize, now in its 27th year, to someone who has shown exceptional achievement in preserving island environments and culture.
“Gina Lopez has shown the vision and courage the Seacology Prize is meant to honor,” said Seacology’s executive director, Duane Silverstein. “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.”
For more than 15 years, Ms. Lopez has been an outspoken champion of social and environmental causes in the Philippines. When she spearheaded the rehabilitation of the badly polluted Pasig River and nearby urban streams, she was named to chair the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission. Her efforts there led to the cleanup of at least 17 tributaries in the Pasig river system.
She 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, Ms. Lopez lobbied against the environmental ravages of mining on Philippine islands. Her stance drew angry criticism from the powerful mining industry.
That criticism intensified in 2016, when Ms. Lopez became acting secretary of the Philippines 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 Ms. Lopez her job. In May 2017, the members of a congressional commission on appointments—some of whom had ties to the mining industry—voted her out. But inside government or out, she has vowed to keep fighting. She has already 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,” said Ms. Lopez.
“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.”
This year’s Seacology Prize Ceremony, honoring Gina Lopez, was held October 5, at the David Brower Center in Berkeley. You can watch the full presentation on our Facebook page.