Maria Criselda A. Sarmiento
Professor Carlo Pangilinan
March 29, 2012
The heated encounter between Manny V. Pangilinan and Gina Lopez at the Conference on Mining’s Impact on the Philippine Economy and Ecology had easily seeped out the public, who correspondingly had been quick to take sides. Apparently, had the confrontation occurred between a mining engineer and an environmentalist, for instance, the iconic face-off would not grab much attention, or be left unknown at all; after all, they are both media industry colossi, and a discussion between them on a topic hardly interesting to the general public would be an easy spectacle. The media portrayal of the victim that Gina Lopez has been enjoying in this issue gathered a lot of people into fending for her and her green advocacies; and the general public, as expected, were disposed to favoring the “altruistic” other, in which case, Gina Lopez—the accused liar, the you in Manny V. Pangilinan’s iconic “Now you’re lying!”
This paper discusses Gina Lopez as the environmental and philanthropic arm of the Lopez family. Specifically, it will look into the effectiveness of Gina Lopez as a female environmental partisan—yet barely an environmentalist—of several causes, and, ultimately, as the greenwashing handmaid of the Lopezes.
The Making of Gina Lopez
Born Regina Paz Lopez, Gina Lopez is the daughter of the late media tycoon Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr, and the sister of Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III, the current Chairman and CEO of ABS-CBN. Compared to his brother Gabby, who is “boss” to a lot of people—executives, employees, and actors alike—having been the keen keeper of ABS-CBN’s watchtower after their father’s death, little is known about Gina before she sat as the Executive Director of the ABS- CBN Foundation, Inc. Until her recent encounter with Manny V. Pangilinan, Gina Lopez is most recognized as an active spearhead of some of the Foundation’s core projects, Kapit Bisig Para sa Ilog Pasig, Bayan ni Juan, and Bantay Kalikasan.
The rehabilitation of the La Mesa Watershed is one of the flagships of the ABS-CBN Foundation Inc.’s achievements. In 1999, Save La Mesa Watershed Project was brought afoot by the Foundation’s Bantay Kalikasan, in partnership with the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System. The project’s aim was to restore the deflowered La Mesa Watershed which became a spoiled eco-location due to illegal poaching and logging. Five years after the plan of reforestation, the La Mesa Watershed was reopened to the public, only as Le Mesa Ecopark that charged fifty pesos per head upon admission.
La Mesa Watershed’s five-year restoration was yet another strategic toying, particularly of the Lopezes, to herald and further advance public-private partnership, developing another profitable resource for the family at one end, and extending the myriad of influence of the Lopezes at another. That was one (and another) story. A good Lopez scheme aside, the watershed’s rehabilitation, being an undeniably ambitious a feat, had ultimately benefited Gina Lopez herself, seizing the sole crown as the green thumb Lopez. Precisely a sound image as such was what Gina Lopez needed to redeem her spot in the Lopez family.
On July 4, 1974, the then minor Gina Lopez was voluntarily submitted for rehabilitation by her mother, Conchita Lopez, to Pasig Criminal Court for drug addiction. Gina was accommodated to the Dare Foundation Inc. on the same day. After two months, on September 13, 1974, the Court directed two doctors from the U.E.R.M Memorial Hospital to do a thorough medical examination on Gina Lopez and determine if there had been a progress on Gina’s drug dependency and/or personality disorder. But Gina, “probably sensing that she would be examined by [the] doctors, escaped from the Dare Foundation, Inc.” (Supreme Court Manila, 1975) and had remained at large for some time.
It was rather logical for the Lopez family to obscure this sensitive case of Gina Lopez’s drug addiction and/or personality disorder from the public. Clearly, it would be an embarrassment for the prominent family, and further an easy trigger for public distrust—a possibility that might have defiled not only the family, but also ABS-CBN, in the event of its disclosure; but, all the same, like any other incidents of doubt, might easily be rewon by the family and the corporation with their tested and proven spellbinding mechanics.
Now, Gina Lopez takes delight on the sympathy and support for her advocacies, whether work-demanded or personal, especially on the movement No 2 Mining in Palawan—with the number to replaced to “2,” most probably to incorporate ABS-CBN Channel 2 in this struggle.
On a personal level, that is the ego of the Lopez family, Gina’s role as the environmental and philanthropic member of the family is a conscious attempt of the Lopezes to fashion Gina as a member of the Lopez family, and therefore a person of moral excellence and a person responsive of the society. A clever maneuver of the Lopezes, Gina’s branding (or re- branding) as the benevolent eco-warrior demonstrates one of the great powers of the media tyrants. Such premeditated step of the Lopez family is one of their many measures of, as Marcuse (1968) well put, “authoritarian identification of person and function.” As a result, the Lopezes got themselves safe to criticisms, particularly against Gina Lopez’s credibility and merits.
True enough, a history ignored is a history forgotten. The tactical concealment of Gina’s drug dependency record has mainly rewritten a history of Gina Lopez as a public figure; but it has also put the family to a safe harbor. Gina, a product of the infamous Lopez tentacles, accordingly, has gained an easy if not perfect reception from the public, who knows nothing but the trimmed Gina:
[T]he irresistible output of the entertainment and information industry carry with them prescribed attitudes and habits, certain intellectual and emotional reactions which bind the consumers more (…) pleasantly to the producers and, through the latter, to the whole. The products indoctrinate and manipulate; they promote a false consciousness which is immune against its falsehood… (Marcuse, 1968)
It is without doubt that the Lopezes are successful in making Gina’s history of once being a dark horse in the family evaporates elsewhere. But their apparent winning of public consciousness does not stop there. Where they have also gotten ahead is in establishing, an eco- warrior Gina Lopez. Such is apparent in the recent confrontation of Gina Lopez against Manny V. Pangilinan.
The public perceived the confrontation between the two media personalities to be particularly a pro-versus-anti-mining debate between a capitalist and an environmental advocate—who, ironically, is also a capitalist. As a matter of fact, Gina was just ineloquently responding to Manny Pangilinan’s statement about mining sites that are not physically viable to be developed for touristic purposes. It was clear that her only point was that not all mining sites are “ugly,” as in the case of Sibuyan; and she ended it by saying “I really think you need to go and visit (Sibuyan).”
The public’s generalization (of the myth) that it was an exchange specifically about banning of mining in the country is a product of the Lopez’s forging of Gina Lopez as an environmental advocate, and Gina’s activities as an environmental advocate—which is evidently a conception (or ideology at large) at work and working as the public have made out the image of an environmentalist Gina, whereby “[giving] us the consciousness of our incessant (…) practice of ideological recognition.” (Althusser, 1971) Having that said, it is not surprising that almost every act of Gina Lopez would be intentionally or unintentionally associated to environmentalism as they have made in us “always-already subjects” (Althusser, 1971).
The greenwashing handmaid
Delmas & Burbano (2011) simply defined greenwashing as “the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company (firm-level greenwashing) or the environmental benefits of a product or service (product-level greenwashing).” It came from the roots of what a Madison advertising executive, Jerry Mander. called “ecopornography”, when a sudden impulse for environmentalism occurred in the 1960s. Corporations leveraged on the increasing popularity of environmentalism and explicitly used it as an approval for their corporations’ or products image through advertising (Lybecker & Black, 2008).
There are two ways in which a firm may be involved in greenwashing; and such happen simultaneously. A firm is greenwashing when it exhibits poor environmental performance while pursuing public relations in the form of positive communication on its environmental performance (Lybecker & Black, 2008).
In 2011, the local government of Bulusan passed a resolution to strengthen its opposition on the geothermal energy exploration project pushed by the Department of Energy (DOE). DOE saw the Bulusan Volcano Natural Park (BVNP) as a viable source of some 40 megawatts of geothermal power after a five-year exploration and construction activities. The local government of Bulusan was quick to oppose this activity by passing a resolution against geothermal energy exploration in the municipality. The plan calls for a pre-development and development stage which would necessitate drilling of exploratory wells deep to the earth’s core, clearing of the forest, and construction of geothermal plants, power turbines, and toxic waste tailing ponds. This project is a service contract, the Geothermal Resource Energy Service Contract (GRESCO), of DOE to the SKI Construction Group Inc. SKI is a fully-owned subsidiary of the First Philippine Holdings Corporation of the Lopez Group.
The Save Mount Kanlaon Coalition and some Negros environmentalists share the same sentiment as the Bulusan people and local governments. The geothermal project of the National Negros Geothermal Power Plant (NNGPP) is accounted for the cutting down of thousands of tress, direction drilling underground, and displacement of the wild flora and fauna with the contamination of the waterways. The NNGGP is fully operated by the Energy Development Corporation that is owned by the Lopez family.
The aforementioned First Philippine Holdings Corporation, owned by the Lopez Group, is the same corporation that owns 67% of First Gen Corporation as the former’s arm for power generation and energy related transactions. The latter owns 60% of First Gas Power Corporation or FGPC. It is FGPC that holds and operates the Santa Rita power plant in Batangas, a combined-cycle natural gas-fired power plant. The power plant utilizes gas supplied by the Malampaya Gas Field in Northwest Palawan. Under a contract with Siemens AG called Engineering Procurement and Construction, the Santa Rita power plant supplies fuel with the Malampaya consortium to Shell, Chevron Texaco and the Philippine National Oil Company. The consortium extracts natural gas from the Malampaya field in conformance to the 1990 North West Palawan Service Contract No. 38 with the government. Santa Rita power plant also provides electricity to MERALCO pursuant to the terms of the 25-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). The Lopez Family also owns 13.4% stake in MERALCO.
The former Rockwell power plant exited with a toxic pond of waste which was channeled to Barangay San Joaquin in Pasig City to develop the high-end mall The Rockwell Center in Makati City. A 15-hectare land, Rockwell serves as a commercial and residential compound. With the softening of the soil of the Marikina Valley, the toxic waste that was transferred and buried in a compound of MERALCO is possible to leak to the Pasig River which is located only 25 meters away from the compound.
It is nonsensical to say that the participation of the Lopez Group in these incidents of environmental destruction is a mere coincidence. The Lopez Group owns and co-owns a number of energy- and power-related corporations whose some projects involve tie-ins with the government.
In the issue of the toxic waste left by the Rockwell Power Plant, one may find it ironic that the possible leaking involves the contamination of Pasig River as one of its consequences; when it is the same river that Gina Lopez hopes to clean in the Foundation’s Kapit Bisig Para Sa Ilog Pasig. It also appears ironical how Gina Lopez ardently fights for the mining in Palawan when it is already deflowered by the First Philippine Holdings Corporation, a corporate holding of the Lopez Group.
Gina Lopez’ green advocacies are not enkindled by incidental guilt, so to speak, and are not in any way aimed to offset the family’s massive environmental wipeout. Gina Lopez in her “green revolution” is the very tool of the Lopezes’ greenwashing.
Althusser (1971) says that an “ideological state apparatus certainly has the dominant role, although hardly anyone lends an ear to hear its music.” Precisely this definition makes a perfect fit for greenwashing because greenwashing itself is a contemporary example of ideological state apparatus.
Greenwashing, as it was mentioned, works twofold: corporation’s environmental abuse and positive propaganda. Such is true to the case of the Lopezes as they grant themselves means to incessantly exploit the country’s resources for their economic gain, while, not only silencing it in the sheer presence of Gina Lopez, but also putting up a good front as a corporation with environmental values. As Althusser (1971) claims, “all ideological state apparatuses, whatever they are, contribute to the same result: the reproduction of the relations of the production, i.e. of capitalist relations of exploitation.”
The ironic advocacies of Gina Lopez are generally not an irony, nor are they coincidences. Gina Lopez is deliberately positioned to work on those particular premises to conceal the family’s corruption of the country’s ecosystem. The projects and advocacies of Gina Lopez are premeditated to make the greenwashing more effective. A television viewer who sees a spot in the television where Gina Lopez ardently forwards the No 2 Mining in Palawan movement would not suspect (or expect) that the main exploiters of Palawan are the Lopezes themselves. Ideological state apparatus is apparently at work.
The patriarchal nature of the Lopezes’ ideological state apparatus is also visible. The role of Gina Lopez as the “agent of exploitation” who functions in “human relations,” (Akthusser, 1971) particularly in her environmental and philanthropic pursuit relates to her being a woman. Nowhere is the patriarchal praxis of the Lopez family more evident in the general organizational structure of the Lopez Group whose top executives are mostly men. But the predominance of men as executives is not the only manifestation of the family’s patriarchy: ABS-CBN Foundation that Gina Lopez herself leads as the Foundation’s Executive Director is composed of mostly women executives, namely Jocelyn Saw, Mariles Gonzales, Girlie Aragon, and Tina Monzon-Palma. Only Marlo Mendoza is the male member of the executive core. Now, how does this make a sign of patriarchy?
According to Warren (1996), “historical and causal links between the dominations of women and of nature are located in conceptual structures of domination and in the way women and nature have been conceptualized.” Therefore, it is not surprising that the social norms about sexuality would tend to situate women in environmental and philanthropic causes, in which case, Gina Lopez’s appointment as the head of the ABS-CBN Foundation and the prevalence of women executives in the Foundation because, in the first place, the purpose the organization serve is more feminine than masculine.
Furthermore, the prevalence of men in the workplace, as evident in the Lopez Group organizational structure, and Gina Lopez’s headship for environmental and philanthropic causes and not in the energy-resource sector clearly exhibits the Lopezes ‟notion of patriarchy, acknowledging men as the objective, [thus] scientific.” (Salleh in Warren, 1996)
Now it makes more sense why the Lopez family intended Gina Lopez to be their environmental arm: because a female environmental advocate is more relatable and believable in a society that has integrated the concept of caring and environment in womanhood in general.
Gina Lopez afloat in the unreal
It is not the relationship between the advocacies of Gina Lopez and the exploitation of the Lopez Group that is ironically coincidental. Gina Lopez herself is the irony in this wide ideological schema.
For a capitalist, environment is just a venue for exploitation. As Marx (1992) put it, “It is as clear as noon-day, which man, by his industry, changes the forms of the materials furnished by Nature, in such a way as to make them useful to him.” Therefore, environmentalism and capitalism are mutually exclusive.
It is a mere understatement that the Lopezes are capitalist. If there is a degree of capitalism, the Lopezes would rate at the peak level; but since there is none, and the term “capitalist” falls short in describing the monopolist family. The Lopezes and suchlike hereafter is called the “nasty capitalist”.
Gina Lopez comes from a nasty capitalist family. At the same time, she is an environmental advocate who is often mistaken as a (true blue) “environmentalist”. Such precisely is the irony behind Gina Lopez herself. It is rather unacceptable to posit Gina Lopez as both “environmentalist” and nasty capitalist as environmental and capitalist pursuit cannot coexist. One has to be fraud to affirm the other: the nasty capitalist runs in Gina Lopez’s blood. Unless she oust herself as a member of the family and undertake other endeavor (that is non-capitalist in nature), she remains to be a nasty capitalist. Following this analogy, Gina Lopez is not an
“environmentalist” but a pretentious one. Her green advocacy, however, may be probable and actually more believable if it is the Lopezes—perhaps the nastiest capitalist in the country—that she contends and topples down first.
Apart from greenwashing, Gina Lopez’s green pursuits may also be explained by incorporation, that is, the “process by which the dominant classes take elements of resistance (…) and use them to maintain the status quo, rather than to challenge it.” (Fiske, 1990) Therefore it is logical for the capitalists to incorporate resistant movements such as environmentalism to the manipulative system. However, it had been asserted that capitalism and environmentalism can never coexist. Thus, the capitalists make up other forms of pseudo-incorporation such as greenwashing.
It is a terror to read Gina Lopez’s opposition against mining, and ultimately, to accept her as an environmental advocate, much less an environmentalist. Environmentalism is the greatest antithesis of capitalism. It is either Gina Lopez admits that her presence is schizophrenic, a distortion of reality—her being the antithesis of herself, or acknowledge the fact that she is being used by the family who once discredited her.