This refers to the article “Lopez accused of fund misuse” published on Feb. 21, 2017 in your paper.
Even before President Rodrigo Duterte appointed her to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Secretary Gina Lopez already accomplished several projects that will prove her credibility and adherence to her core principles on integrity, social justice, and the common good. Notable among her projects are the Ugong Rock and the Ihawig River and Firefly River Watching, both in Palawan province, and the La Mesa Eco Park in Quezon City.
Through the ABS-CBN Foundation Inc. (AFI), where she previously served as the managing director, Lopez invested P1 million out of her own pocket in a poor community, which has a great rock formation known as the Ugong Rock in Brgy. Tagabinet in Puerto Princesa City.
Near Palawan’s famous Underground River, Ugong Rock is now considered as one of the most visited ecotourism sites in the province. It is dubbed as the country’s “last ecological frontier.”
The community, with 98 percent women, and only two have graduated from college, is now earning between P9,000 and P18,000 monthly for its members. Its gross income breached the P30-million mark on its seventh year of implementation.
Community members were also able to raise their own poultry farm as another source of livelihood. It is from this farm where Secretary Lopez fondly calls “OPM (Original Pilipino Music) ducks” can be found. These ducks are called as such because they lay eggs whenever they hear songs from the country’s best musicians.
Her other project is the Iwahig River and Firefly Watching, also in Puerto Princesa, where the community earns P10, 000 a week with just a boat ride for tourists who want to see the beauty of the majestic river. As a result, the project won gold at the Pacific Asia Travel Awards. The community’s gross income surged to over P32 million on its sixth year of operation.
Secretary Lopez was able to increase the number of tourists in Palawan because of these projects, making the province as one of the best internationally-recognized ecotourism spots in the world.
The La Mesa Eco Park, which is dubbed as “the pre-nuptial capital of the Philippines,” is also one of her centerpiece projects because of her successful reforestation efforts, making it a haven to the endemic animals that were introduced to the sanctuary. The eco-park is a favorite destination for more than 200 schools for educational nature and adventure trips, and serves as a temporary solace for people who would want to take a breath of fresh air and escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
The reforestation of the eco-park and the entire La Mesa Watershed was hailed by no less than the United Nations as a gold standard in Asia, having been planted with hundreds of thousands of endemic species of trees that were initially sourced from Sierra Madre and then raised within the park’s nurseries. This will serve as a model site for the National Greening Program, where barren areas will be transformed into productive ecological and economic zones.
With the project being a success, generating more than P20 million annually, Secretary Lopez assures everyone that the profit shares of the La Mesa Eco Park have been properly distributed to the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) and the local government of Quezon City.
The AFI was able to raise P300 million without asking for anything in return. It also reports to the MWSS and the QC government four times a year to ensure transparency in all its transactions within the eco-park. Secretary Lopez only asked for a share from the profit to run the foundation to pay for administrative costs, and not a return from the money she had invested.
On the issue of the Pasig River and the recycling equipment that has been rendered junk by the Commission on Audit, Secretary Lopez was not in charge of overseeing the operation of these machines. The local government units (LGUs) have jurisdiction over the property where the machines operate. As head of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission, her role was limited to procuring the equipment and ensuring that public money is not wasted. Currently, these equipment are under the care and maintenance of the concerned LGUs that are near the Pasig River.
Through ecotourism and taking care of the environment, the communities helped by Secretary Lopez were able to raise money to send the children of their members to college. While Secretary Lopez is taking care of the environment and providing livelihood, she is also “teaching people how to fish” instead of “giving them fish,” veering away the communities from mendicancy, and toward productivity.
The public can rest assured that everything Secretary Lopez has done and will continue to do are for the truth, service, integrity and the common good.
MA. SABRINA R. CRUZ
Strategic Communication and Initiatives Services
Department of Environment and Natural Resources