The ABS-CBN Ball 2019 is indeed fast approaching!
While everyone is still wondering what will transpire in the highly anticipated annual celebrity bash that will take place on September 14, there’s one thing that we are absolutely sure of – it’s going to be a celebration of the fruitful, inspiring, love-filled and memorable life of the late and former ABS-CBN Foundation Inc. Chairperson Gina Lopez, too.
On its debut last year, the star-studded gathering was able to raise millions of pesos for the renovation and relaunching of the Bantay Bata 163 Children’s Village in Norzagaray, Bulacan, which was one of her key projects during her term. And this year, the Kapamilya Network commits anew in supporting another program she created, the Bantay Edukasyon, by raising funds to grant scholarships to their scholars and the disadvantaged children they rescued.
Had she still been with us, GL (as what her colleagues fondly call her) would be truly delighted because of her immense zeal when it comes to children and providing them a better life and a brighter future. But how did that burning passion really ignite?
As a humanitarian worker
Even if she was the daughter of ABS-CBN founder Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr., the young Gina chose to stop her studies in the United States, set aside her comfortable lifestyle, and cut her ties with her family to join Ananda Marga, a socio-spiritual organization.
From being pampered as an heiress, she found herself doing humanitarian work in Kenya, where she experienced living in poverty, famine, and war for nearly 20 years. But those inconveniences didn’t discourage her from pursuing her mission of serving the most destitute and homeless children and being able to put up schools for the organization, as what her loved ones disclosed in the Genuine Love, the DocuCentral documentary dedicated for her.
“At that time, we had more than 50 schools in Kenya and in other parts of Africa. She started those activities for the people,” shared Sona Roy, Gina’s ex-husband and superior in Ananda Marga who described her as “always humble and down-to-earth”.
She eventually went back to the Philippines in 1991 to start a family with Sona Roy and continued serving to other people through the charitable institutions she established under ABS-CBN Foundation Inc.
As the ABS-CBN Foundation Chief
In 1989, Kapitan Geny launched ABS-CBN Foundation Inc. – the socio-civic arm of ABS-CBN. Five years after its inception and two years after she arrived home from her missionary stint in Africa, GL was tapped to spearhead it.
But it was in 1997 when she founded the social welfare program Bantay Bata 163 after seeing the news about a young girl’s death due to her mother maltreating her incessantly for two years.
“I saw a news item on television. The little girl was beaten up by her mother for a period of two years and at the end of [those] two years she died. I thought at that time that if there was a number that girl could have called or the neighbors could have called. Then maybe we could have prevented what happened,” the prominent philanthropist conveyed in an interview.
Since then, 1-6-3 has been the helpline for those who want to report violence against the youth and to ask for help regarding medical and educational needs.
The next thing the whole nation witnessed was her active intervention in saving a little boy named “Jessy”, whose grandmother chained and kept him inside a box for five years, from the moment he was taken from their residence.
Aside from rescuing abused, neglected, and exploited children, former Bantay Bata program director Tina Monzon-Palma said that it also inspired the judiciary to develop a protocol on how to feature the story of a child in media.
Through the years, 1,885 children were rescued from abuse, 402,509 calls in 1-6-3 hotline were received and acted upon, and 77,297 children were given medical care.
Being the managing director of ABS-CBN Foundation Inc., it had been easy for her to promote her another advocacy – education. Her dream of putting television in every school to aid in the improvement of public education might have sounded absurd to her family then, according to her brother and ABS-CBN Chairman Emeritus Gabby Lopez, but she was able to make it possible in the coming years.
GL successfully launched the foundation’s nationwide distribution of televisions and educational materials in public schools and 19 educational shows were broadcast on television, including Sineskwela, MathTinik, Bayani, Hiraya Manawari, and Epol Apol.
“Kumuha siya ng mga taga-DepEd (Department of Education) na ire-review ‘yong content,” Monzon-Palma recalled. “It was well-thought of and academically-searched on what the children watch. We had to study the child. Gano’n si Gina e, kailangan maintindihan kung paano siya gagalaw.”
Then in 1997, Bantay Edukasyon was formed under Bantay Bata 163 in pursuit of providing a better life and brighter future to the less fortunate Filipino youth through quality education. In the past 21 years, it has already granted scholarships to 6,000 and more children.
With all the trailblazing and formidable measures she did and implemented as the chief of the foundation, her brother and former ABS-CBN Global Ltd COO Raffy Lopez was definitely right when he stated on Genuine Love, “Bantay Bata is one of the most amazing things Gina has done. I think that’s really the thing that really launched her and the ABS-CBN Foundation into the consciousness of everybody.”
As “a missionary in designer jeans”
To become more acquainted with GL, Entertainment.abs-cbn.com asked about how she was as a boss and how her legacy will continue beyond her death during our exclusive interview with current Bantay Bata program director Jing Castañeda-Velasco.
She started by recounting the day when their founder attended the anniversary celebration of Bantay Bata last February 2019 at the Children’s Village.
“Ang nakakatuwa sa kanya, ang hinanap niya ‘yong mga house parents saka ‘yong mga social workers. So makikita mo na ‘yong bida kay GL, ‘di lang ‘yong mga taong mataas ang antas sa lipunan. Bida rin sa kanya, importante rin sa kanya ‘yong mga social workers, mga house parents kasi sila ‘yong hands-on sa mga bata. So sila ‘yong mga ka-meeting niya,” she said as she recalled what the late philanthropist and environmentalist did as soon as she arrived at the event. GL’s presence did bring joy to the staff as it was their time to see and chat with her.
Jing continued, “So binilinan niya, ‘Kailangan ‘yong mga bata mahalin, alagaan. Everything starts with love. Everything should be done with love in your hearts. Ang mga bata, matitigas ang ulo ng mga ‘yan. They’re not always angels. But we have to love them and we have to take care of them, precisely because they’re not angels all the time. That’s why we’re here for them so that they would become angels.’”
While she, like any boss, would have those moments of anger and frustration, her team at Bantay Bata 163 chose to understand her as they see how pure her intentions were and that she came from a place of love. GL would always inculcate to and remind them to “always have a love in your heart because it’s the thing that gives meaning to what you’re doing.”
The affable program director then imparted how she deems of GL as a “missionary in designer jeans.”
“Because she’s not your typical missionary in robes. She actually gave it up when she went back to the Philippines. But even if she gave up the physical appearance, she remained a missionary by heart. So lahat ng mga taong makasalamuha niya, mayaman o mahirap, she’s always looking at it from the eyes of love, from the eyes of service. So kung ikaw mayaman, tinitingnan niya kung ‘paano ka kaya makakatulong. ‘Paano kaya kita mahihingan ng pera para makatulong?’ Kung ikaw naman ‘yong mahirap, ‘Paano kaya kita matutulungan?’” she related.
When GL passed on, it wasn’t only her loved ones and colleagues who mourned, but the whole nation as well. Her undying love and passion to serve others has touched a lot of people from different parts of the archipelago through the ABS-CBN Foundation and her newly-established iLOVE (Investments in Loving Organization for Village Economies) Foundation that “aims to engage genuine partners to help empower communities across the Philippines”. At the same time, they’re also grateful for the opportunity God has given to be able to work closely with her.
“Although permanently physically away na siya, sa dami ng nasimulan niya, sa dami ng natulong niya, sa dami ng mga natulungan niya, sa dami ng mga taong nakatrabaho siya, hindi mo mararamdaman na nawala siya kasi in each and everyone of us, there’s a Gina Lopez in us. From the beneficiaries to the social workers, to the management, to the guwardiya na nakatrabaho niya, lahat talaga we were so lucky to have known her, to have served her, and to have served with her. We’re given the blessing of seeing how her mind works, of feeling how her heart feels, of witnessing how she works [and] how she handles things,” she said.
Misty-eyed, Jing added, “So kahit wala na siya, basta alam mong there’s someone like her once upon existed, ‘di pala imposible na magkaroon ng gano’ng klaseng tao.”
Here’s a memorable snippet in GL’s speech as she was conferred a doctorate degree in Humanities, honoris causa at the Ateneo de Naga University in 2011, which she relentlessly instilled in the minds of her colleagues and her beneficiaries, and to which everyone could surely relate with as well:
“Never think you’re small. You’re absolutely great and magnificent. You can go out and conquer the world. Never, never, never think you’re small.”