Gina LopezThree years ago, ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation executive director Gina Lopez mobilized Bantay Kalikasan to help develop and market two eco-tourism sites in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.
Today, there are five flourishing eco-tourism and livelihood projects in Palawan. The communities are self-sufficient, with one site providing work to 275 families who are able to send their children to school, even up to college.
She proudly announces more sites under development and due for launch within 2015: Saranggani, Sorsogon, Mindoro, Guimaras, South Cotabato and Samar.
Her vision is simple: “We can’t change the whole country all at once. But we can create models of success, to show similarly situated communities that eco-tourism is feasible and can provide sustainable employment over the long term. Because if we just do it in one site, then people might say we just got lucky. But if we are able to succeed in many sites, then they will know that it’s not luck. It means the business really works and is sustainable.”
Lopez acknowledges that the country’s economic growth has not been inclusive. She proposes that eco-tourism is a sustainable enterprise that can alleviate poverty and at the same time, protect the country’s natural environment. She believes that every successful eco-tourism site will eventually turn the tide in favor of poor communities who happen to live in the most beautiful scenic spots in the country.
Her G Eco Tours team gets the inputs of each community on how best to develop nature’s attractions for tourists, helps them build infrastructure such as ports to improve access, and trains them to be ‘earth warriors’. By teaching residents how nature itself can be the entire barangay’s way out of poverty, G Eco Tours builds a pool of environmentally conscious tourist guides, as well as active protectors of the forests, where fresh streams flow and trees provide nutritious food and healing medicines.
The team also counts on the support of local governments to help the community prosper in a sustainable manner. “The LGU (local government unit) has to be friendly. Otherwise, it will be very difficult for the project to move forward,” Lopez says.
As chair of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC), she feels fortunate that the assignment is apolitical. “PRRC is just cleaning the river. That’s the only intention. We don’t have any political problems because everybody wants a clean river. In fact, we are able to receive the cooperation of all the mayors.”
Even after her appointment as a government official ends, Lopez knows she will continue with her advocacies. “ABS-CBN is in media. It has the ability to catalyze and facilitate action. We will continue to be part of ABS-CBN, which allows us to make a difference in the lives of our countrymen.”
She believes members of the Lopez Group are privileged to be part of a conglomerate that has national development as a premiere objective. “Our family (the Lopez family) is always interested in the common good and in the national well-being. In that way, we are all very lucky to be part of this group. We can be proud of that desire, and of course, of that capacity to help.”
Her message to LopezLink readers: “I look forward to working with all Lopez Group members. Together, we can be an amazingly powerful force for national development. Let us work more closely, let’s work together. I want to hear your ideas. Tell me how to alleviate poverty in your hometowns, where you live or work. Tell me about undiscovered tourist destinations. Let’s help each other be a force for good.”(Story/photos by Carla Paras-Sison)