The people of Sibuyan Island and the province of Romblon grieve. She is a gift, a ray of hope for the grieving masses affected by development agression which sacrifices the integrity of ecosystems. It cannot be denied that she was able to strengthen our fight against environmental destruction in our islands. She encouraged us to see and act on opportunities to benefit from and co-exist with nature, its beauty, within its carrying capacity. Indeed, Gina Lopez showed us how to care for creation, a moral responsibility. In this time of ecological crisis, she is a hero worth emulating – a voice of the ailing environment worth saving.
In 2011, in the height of Save Palawan Movement. I was tasked by Alyansa Tigil Mina to accompany Gina in her engagements relating to mining. I have been at her back to assist. The Palawan campaign was made national to include other key biodoversity and ecologically sensitive areas threatened by mining. There, I introduced Sibuyan to her.
Gina’s intervention was a huge moral boost for the people of Sibuyan to defend the island’s ecosystem while learning how to benefit from its conservation, preservation and rehabilitation. She is instrumental for putting the island in the ecotourism map not only in the country but the whole world.
When Gina Lopez first arrived in Romblon through Tablas airport with her family’s private plane, she opened windows, and even wide doors of opportunity. It all started with a conversation at the fifth floor of ABS-CBN Foundation in 2011. We were having a meeting on No to Mining in Palawan movement and advancing our campaign to other parts of the country. We mentioned Sibuyan Island and the province of Romblon and the future secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was interested and asked more about our place. The following week, we brought Governor Lolong Firmalo and then Mayor Dindo Rios of San Fernando to meet her and explore possibilities of collaboration. Yes, she decided to visit Romblon and from Odiongan in April 2011 after the Kanidugan Festival and meetings with the Romblon Ecumenical Forum Against Mining (REFAM) and other LGU officials, we flew by chopper to Sibuyan crossing for the first time Mt. Guiting-guiting. We met Dr. Art Tansiongco and Sibuyan local officials.
It seems that in the first few months or years, many people, even Romblomanons did not believe and doubted the interest of the lady. And eventually, the rest is history, which all of us cannot deny: flights went back, 2Go Travel came, tourism re-invigorated, Romblon is back on the Philippine map – through that lady once mocked and doubted by some Sibuyanons.
Gina is strong-willed, deep, and passionate. She is honest and frank. Integrity and faith in God are important to her. At first, her presence is intimidating but she believes in the capabilities of the people she work with. It is so rare for environment activists to work with the so called elite, but she is different. Through the years she learned our ways. She climbed mountains, ate with the grassroots and went down. We see hope in power.
The rest is history.
Regina Paz Lopez for your unselfishness and zeal, you are an angelic instrument.