By Frances Quimpo
The history of protecting the Philippine environment and the country’s natural resources is a history of resistance: stories of valiant struggle and often untold sacrifices by people and communities to protect their lands, mountains, rivers, and seas from the threat of plunder for profit.
In order to recognize the valiant struggles of the people to defend the environment, lives and rights, the Center for Environmental Concerns together with its cooperating organizations AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, the Special Concerns Office of the DENR, EcoWaste Coalition, Haribon, Panalipdan Mindanao and the Central Visayas Fisherfolk Development Center (FIDEC) gave the second Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan (GBK) awards to three individuals in a ceremony at the Miriam College in Quezon City.
The first GBK was held in 2009, honoring three individuals and three grassroots organizations who have worked tirelessly and quietly to protect the environment and the people’s welfare.This awards event and lecture series recognizes exemplary individuals and organizations who have become part of the people’s movement to defend our environment, lives, and rights.
The award aims to promote awareness of critical environmental issues and the situation of communities directly relying on our natural resources. It was also conceived to give due recognition to the valiant struggles of the people to defend the environment, lives, and rights in order to serve as an example and lesson to the people who continue to confront similar challenges. The exemplary deeds and initiatives of simple individuals and organizations who have contributed to the upholding the environment and people’s welfare at the national and/or local levels should not go unheeded as these examples are the clear link between sustainable preservation and conservation of theenvironment and the struggle for social, economic, and political rights.
For 2011, the members of the Awards Committee include the Bishop of Caloocan, Bishop Deogracias S. Iniguez, Jr., National Artist for Literature Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera, Dr. Carol P. Araullo, Chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), Dr. Teresita R. Perez from the Environmental Sciences Department of Ateneo de Manila University, Atty. Howard M. Calleja of the Calleja Law Office, Dr. Antonio P. Contreras of the Department of Political Science of the De La Salle University and Sr. Ma. Carmen Dianne Cabasagan, RGS from the Sisters Association in Mindanao (SAMIN).
The board of judges who selected the awardees this year are Dr. Lumbera, Dr. Araullo, Dr. Helen N. Mendoza, President of the Philippine Network on Climate Change, Dr. Rowena Reyes-Boquiren, Environmental Historian from UP Baguio and Hon. Danilo S. Fernandez, the Chairperson of the Committee on Ecology at the House of Representatives. They selected the awardees based on their service and devotion to the people, defense of the environment and national patrimony, leadership and integrity.
This year’s second GBK awards are unique in the sense that it specifically pays tribute to our fallen environmental heroes: three Filipinos who have pursued various ways of protecting our country’s natural resources so that the people would benefit from these. The three 2011 GBK awardees all passed away in different circumstances.
Bagobo chieftain Datu Tomas Ito passed away from natural causes at the age of 84 on February 10, 2010. Botanist Leonardo L. Co and his companions, forester Sofronio Cortez and forest guide Julius Borromeo, were killed after the military opened fi re on their team in the forests of Kananga, Leyte on November 15, 2010. Broadcaster and campaigner Dr. Gerry Ortega was treacherously felled by an assassin’s bullets in Palawan on January 24, 2011.
A song says that it is not the manner of death that makes one a hero; some succumb to illness, others are taken away suddenly, through the most violent of means. Whatever the circumstances, all of those honored as martyrs share the same sense of selfless sacrifice: putting into practice the saying that a hero serves the people to one’s very last breath. This second GBKawards is a humble tribute to honor their sacrifices and the vision they stood for: that of a Philippineswhose natural wealth will be protected and which will serve the people’s needs.
The struggle continues. Co’s vision of protecting the Philippine forests and using the country’s biodiversity to heal those with the least access to medical services is taken on by dedicated researchers and community-based health programs around the country. Ortega’s crusade to save Palawan against large-scale mining and to ensure that its communities benefit the most from any extractive projects is reflected in the work of media practitioners and organizations speaking out against the plunder of our national patrimony. Ito’s lifelong bravery and leadership towards uniting the indigenous tribes of Mindanao against development aggression and dispossession lives on in the growing resistance of IP communities everywhere.
The challenge for us all is to continue seeking accountability for those who were killed and to remember their sacrifices through practice. Let us keep the fire of justice burning by pursuing the struggles of our martyrs and the people they devoted their entire lives to.###
Frances Quimpo is a founding member of AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People and Executive Director of the Center for Environmental Concerns Philippines.