Regina Paz (Gina) Lopez has been honored with the 2017 Seacology Prize in Berkeley, California – the first Filipino to have won the trophy in the award’s 27-year-history of recognizing world champions of islands ecosystems.

Gina Lopez was cited by Seacology as a prominent Filipino environmental activist who continues to fight for the welfare of island communities in the Philippines despite powerful opposition from political and business interests.

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“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” went the citation in ceremonies held early October.

Receiving her award, Lopez remarked, “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.”

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Lopez has been an environmental advocate for 15 years and had a brief stint as the head of the highest environmental body in the country, the Department of Environment and National Resources (DENR), until her banning of open-pit mining got her into trouble with the Philippine legislature and eventually got her voted out of the national agency.

Before her appointment as DENR secretary, Lopez was leader of the Save Palawan Island movement which lobbied against the environmental impact of mining on communities and drew attention to the plight of villagers who suffer from the resulting toxins entering ground water, the oceans and air. Her actions earned her the ire of mining companies.

The outspoken champion of social and environmental causes in the Philippines was cited for her work in leading the rehabilitation of the polluted Pasig River and nearby urban streams, resulting in the cleanup of 17 tributaries.

She also led a successful campaign to save La Mesa Watershed, the last remaining major rainforest in Metro Manila and the reservoir of drinking water for 12 million Filipinos. The watershed has since been renamed the La Mesa Ecopark, a tree-lined park where urban dwellers can hike, fish, and ride mountain bikes or horses.

“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.”

Since leaving government service, Lopez has continued with her environmental activism and started I LOVE (Investments in Loving Organizations for Village Economies) with the goal of building businesses at the grassroots level.

“The key to genuine economic growth—which must result in social justice—the key and the foundation, is love,” Lopez, who comes from a prominent clan, said. “I come from a business family, so of course I believe in business. But it can’t be money for money’s sake.”

“No matter how much money you have, no matter what intellectual or economic theory you have… if it’s not based on a deep foundation of caring and empathy, it’s just not going to work.”

Lopez has decided to donate the $10,000 included with the Seacology Prize to support several island-based projects, including a sustainable-development project on Kinatarcan, a small, sparsely populated island near Cebu, according to Seacology.

Seacology projects all over the world are focused on strengthening island communities and their ecosystems.

Lopez will be again honored in December when Seacology comes to Manila.

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The Good News Pilipinas Team is a group of Filipino journalists who advocate putting more good news stories about the Philippines and Filipinos on the media.