‘I love you all!,’ which she often blurted out with her trademark enthusiasm, might well be the reason for GL’s lifeworkIt has been weeks since Gina Lopez (GL) has left us, and still there is that ache in the hearts of those whose lives she has touched. The overwhelming outpouring of grief when she passed away after bravely facing the last challenge in her life will be hard to forget.
One can only look back at the many impactful seeds that she planted and helped grow. These were truly seeds of hope driven by the love and passion of a woman who was like a star that brightened the darkness of society, a woman who truly believed that she can “fly and spread her wings,” a woman of faith, a woman of substance, a woman of action—the values taught her by her alma mater, Assumption College.
By now, the many heartwarming and inspiring articles about GL in print, broadcast and social media have revealed that her life was indeed one of authenticity (not hiding her flaws and frankness) and, most important, genuine love.
The latter is also the title of the documentary about her life and accomplishments that aired on ABS-CBN on August 25, the day after she was laid to rest. “Genuine Love” said it all—how she left her family to join Ananda Marga, how she lived for many years among the poorest of the poor in Africa, how she was found by her father there and one of the first things she asked for was a refrigerator, how she came back home and yes, how, after GL joined ABS-CBN Foundation Inc. (AFI, now ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation Inc. or ALKFI), the world of NGOs in the Philippines was never the same again.
One of GL’s favorite songs was R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” originally released in 1996. The song’s message of dreaming and achieving impossible things by spreading one’s wings in the name of love must have really driven GL to do things in a focused and passionate manner. And her projects indeed showed how she walked her talk.
As one of those who headed ALKFI’s public relations and communications department during the first decade of the foundation, I saw how she challenged each and every one of us, her executives and her staff, to “fly” with her in achieving the goals of Bantay Bata, Bantay Kalikasan, E-Media and her volunteers for disaster relief and rehabilitation which was the start of Sagip Kapamilya.
Always doing things big
GL did not do things in a small manner. She did it big time. For example, when she embarked on the Clean Air Act campaign, she asked us to gather not one million signatures, not two, but 10! How she went about it is something hard to believe. She gathered all her friends, her networks especially in the academe and religious organizations and, of course, her media resources including the thousands of employees of the Lopez Group of companies, to sign up and help spread the word. Sure enough, 10 million signatures were delivered to the legislators and, after a few months, the Clean Air Act was passed.
There is of course Bantay Bata, then the flagship project of ALKFI. After watching a “TV Patrol” report of a child being abused, GL was horrified and could not just let it go. She saw the urgency of the state of abused children and the Bantay Bata 163 hotline was set up; immediate rescue was implemented and televised to raise awareness about preventing child abuse. The rest is history.
After more than two decades, and with the help of dedicated social workers, BB163 is still around and being sustained by many who believe in loving and protecting the child.
One thing with GL, she was not hesitant in carrying and embracing rescued children, no matter the state they are in. One of the famous cases of child rescue was the case of young Jessie, whose grandmother and guardian imprisoned him for years in a cage like a dog. The rescue was recorded and one can see GL picking up and embracing Jessie from his filthy and smelly cage. Jessie was one of the people seen on television expressing his thanks to GL during her wake at Studio 10 at the ABS-CBN compound.
Under Bantay Kalikasan, the La Mesa Ecopark project was another one whose rehabilitation seemed impossible. La Mesa is not just a small park, but hectares of then denuded forest. There were many challenges and obstacles in the beginning but this prompted GL to be more aggressive in protecting the area that helps in providing clean water to the more than 12 million people in Metro Manila.
She was able to get the country’s leading corporations that believed in her environmental causes to help her. Today, La Mesa remains one of GL’s sustainable projects.
For the past years, GL’s favorite projects were in the field of ecotourism. The residents/beneficiaries affected by the projects are forever grateful to her, not only for providing them with clean and green surroundings, but also livelihoods to better their families’ lives.
Her big-time impact on the environment is such that in one state of the nation address of the President a few years back when she was still Department of Environment and Natural Resources secretary, she was mentioned not just once, but several times in his speech.
And how she showed her support and appreciation for her first group of volunteers who would be among the first to arrive at disaster-stricken areas with relief goods will be remembered for a long time. Then known as AFI Volunteers, they would stay at their makeshift relief center practically 24/7, a practice that continues to this day through the now institutionalized Sagip Kapamilya.
‘I love you all!’
Whenever GL would go fundraising before the heads of the biggest corporations in the Philippines, she never came out empty-handed; she always managed to solicit funds from them. It was difficult to refuse her. She would come well prepared with statistics to back her up and emotional videos to melt their hearts and make them bring out their checkbooks.
Like I said, GL did not do things small, nor did she receive donations in small amounts. It was usually in the millions, and this was because these businessmen could see her sincerity, accountability and transparency. Sure, she may have “fought” with one or two of them due to her antimining position, but it was indeed hard to refuse to support her when she started her inspiring speech with no prepared notes as she would rather speak from her heart.
She would always tell us that Filipinos are a visual people and the best way to convince them was to show images of what is happening with regard to the environment and children. She would even end her speech and presentation with “I love you all!” no matter who her audience was.
There are just too many anecdotes regarding the colorful and driven personality of this extraordinary lady whose love for family, clan, her foundations and country will be embedded in the hearts of those who knew her.
Now that GL has indeed “flown,” we will always remember her for the seeds of hope that she has given to so many of her countrymen.
As the Carmelite and Spanish mystic priest St. John of the Cross said: “At the sunset of our lives we will only be judged on one thing: how much have we loved.” (Story/Photos by: Dulce Festin-Baybay)