Gina Lopez, foe of Philippine mining industry, dies at 65

Manila (AFP) –


Former Philippine environment minister Gina Lopez, who led a high-profile fight against the nation's powerful mining industry, died Monday aged 65, her family's media company announced.

Lopez rose to international prominence in 2016 by ordering many Philippines mines shuttered on environmental grounds, and also issued a ban on open-pit mining.

The Philippines, which is one of the world's top nickel ore producers, has long faced accusations of looking the other way while major firms flout regulations.

A statement from her family's media company ABS-CBN, the Philippines' largest broadcaster, confirmed Lopez's death but did not elaborate on the cause.

"With Gina's passing, we lost a fervent advocate... and an unswerving champion for environment preservation," the company said in a statement.

Lopez served as President Rodrigo Duterte's environment minister for 10 months until a congressional committee rejected her appointment in 2017, a rarity in Philippine politics.

Although Duterte is known for his internationally condemned crackdown on drugs that has killed thousands of Filipinos, he has also been outspoken on protecting the nation's environment.

In her brief stint as environment minister, Lopez ordered the closure of 23 of the nation's mines.

In turn, the Philippines' mining firms ran a high-profile campaign to have the commission reject her, arguing she was jeopardising the lives of 1.2 million people who were dependent on the industry.

Her actions sent global nickel prices soaring in 2016, but after failing to win confirmation many of the mines were allowed to resume operating.

Her death drew reactions from campaigners around the world, including Greenpeace southeast Asia executive director Yeb Sano who mourned her loss.

"The Earth has lost a warrior, but her spirit lives on in the movement that she so helped build," Sano said.

Before her brief stint in government, Lopez spent most of her life pursuing spiritual and environmental work.

She belonged to one of the Philippines' wealthiest families, but exchanged a life of luxury to become a yoga missionary with a spiritual organisation founded in India called Ananda Marga, or Path of Bliss.

Lopez spent two decades in Africa, India and Portugal promoting yoga and helping the underprivileged, before returning to the Philippines to raise two children.

Back home Lopez earned a reputation as a passionate advocate for the environment, most notably with the charitable arm of her family's ABS-CBN media empire.