On June 20, 2016, Rodrigo Duterte, the newly elected president of the Philippines, asked Regina Lopez to join him in Davao City for an extended conversation about the condition of his country’s land and water.
It turned out to be an eventful encounter. The glib, rough talking, 71-year-old strongman former mayor of Davao City sought help from a 62-year-old woman known inside her wealthy family as the renegade daughter, and outside as an incorruptible foundation director and maverick environmentalist. As head of her family’s ABS-CBN Foundation Lopez led one national campaign to ban open-pit mining. She organized another to clean up a portion of the filthy Pasig River that flows through Manila just to prove it could be done.
When the meeting concluded, Duterte extended Lopez an invitation to direct an agency widely noted to be notoriously feeble — the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
She accepted. On July 1, the day after Duterte’s inauguration and with his enthusiastic support, Lopez launched environmental compliance audits of the country’s 41 big hard rock mineral mines that eventually resulted in shutdown or suspension orders against 26 mines. She reviewed government approvals for 339 proposed mines and canceled 75 of them. In the last week of April, the DENR banned new open-pit mines.