Gina Lopez fights against Philippine mining

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Gina Lopez fights against Philippine mining

Gina Lopez is the Philippines’ environmentalist, who is fighting against the powerful mining industry. She speaks with Veronique Mistiaen.


Gina Lopez. Photo courtesy of Gina Lopez

Gina Lopez is speaking on a Skype interview from the Philippines. ‘We have the most beautiful country. It has 7,000 islands with coral reefs, mountains, rivers, and forests with rare medicinal plants. We have the highest biodiversity on the planet. But our people get nothing from it. People who want gold are destroying it.’

Lopez was the country’s environment secretary. She plans to protect the biodiversity of the Philippines and at the same time, to promote social justice. This is difficult in a country where big business is in control.

After a few days in the job, she was fearless in challenging the powerful mining industry, which is polluting the islands’ water.

‘Yes, mining creates a few jobs and perhaps a few schools, and a few people get rich. But thousands suffer and water is polluted for generations. Mining is just greed and selfishness.’

Lopez is 64 and the daughter of one of the country’s richest and most powerful families. Lopez is an environmentalist and a philanthropist. She left the Philippines in 1972 to avoid political persecution under the Marcos government. But she returned in 1986 after her education in the US. She trained as a yoga master, and then worked with disadvantaged communities in Africa. In 2017, she received the Seacology Prize, for her work in protecting island environments and culture.

For more than 15 years, Lopez has worked for social and environmental causes. She led the clean-up of the Pasig River, which was full of trash and sewage. She campaigned to save La Mesa Watershed, which has the last rainforest in Manila, and a reservoir used by 12 million people for drinking water.

In 2010, she visited the beautiful Palawan Island and she saw how destructive open-pit mining is. ‘When the helicopter took me there, I saw a very big hole in the ground. I was horrified. The farmers and fishermen were crying. They couldn’t fish, they couldn’t grow food. And there were about100 new applications for open-pit mining. So I started the Save Palawan movement to stop them.’

In 2016, the new authoritarian President Rodrigo Duterte gave her the job as acting secretary of the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). She started the first meetings between the DENR and indigenous groups, and stopped illegal fish pens in the country’s biggest lake. But her strongest actions were against mining.

People knew that the DENR was not looking after the Philippines’ rich mining industry. But during her 10 months in the job, Lopez stopped open-pit mines and took action to shut more than half of the country’s mines, after reports showed they acted against the environment and the law.

After her work against the mining industry, Lopez lost her job in May 2017, when the Congressional Committee refused to keep it. Some members of that committee have strong connections with mining companies.

Many of the islands are still suffering from mining, and mining is still allowed in important protected areas. However, Duterte has given his support again for stopping open-pit mining.

But inside or outside the government, Lopez said she will still fight to end ‘mining poverty’ and protect the nation’s environment. She has already started I LOVE (Investments in Loving Organizations for Village Economies), to help end Filipinos’ poverty by starting green businesses.

‘I believe that through care of the environment and good marketing, communities can get out of poverty very quickly. These activities are much better than mining, which has been here for over a hundred years and has nothing to show for it, except a few rich people and the destruction for generations to come.’

Veronique Mistiaen is a journalist, and writes about global development, human rights, and the environment. @VeroMistiaen


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).