“The commitment to protect and nurture the environment and national patrimony is not an easy road to take. Not only does it require patience and perseverance, energies and strength of will, but in other times, it also costs peoples’ lives.” – Frances Quimpo, Center for Environmental Concerns
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — Awards-giving ceremonies are mostly joyous occasions. But in this one, joy and acclaim were tempered with tears and fury. In the words of a grieving father who accepted his son’s post-humous award, “This award gives meaning to Armin’s sacrifice, but it hurts to think that if only the DENR had forbidden the cutting down of thousands of trees, my son would have been still here with us.”
His son, Armin Marin, a town councilor, was one of the six recipients of the biennial Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan (GBK), given early this month at the Bureau of Soils and Water Managament’s auditorium in Quezon City. It was the third awarding year for GBK.
3 individuals honored as heroes of the environment
Armin Marin is regarded as an incorruptible champion of the environment in Sibuyan Island of Romblon Province, which is considered by many as ‘Asia’s Galapagos’ for its biodiversity and geographical uniqueness.
The GBK committee said Marin had especially fought against consortium of large-scale miners that aimed to exploit mineral resources in Sibuyan Island despite its being a protected area. He was killed in October 2007 with a fatal shot during a violent dispersal of a peaceful protest they had staged against Sibuyan Mining Properties Development Corporation. He was dragged away and gunned down. The alleged assailant was head of the security team employed by Sibuyan Mining Properties Development Corporation. Armin Marin had envisioned Sibuyan for eco-tourists, not for large mining interests, the GBK committee said.
“I wish the government would no longer allow destructive mining operations. We, the common people, are the ones sacrificed in the end. After mining companies have extracted all our land’s wealth, we’re left with the destroyed environment,” the father of Armin Marin said tearfully at the GBK awarding ceremony.
The colleagues of Wilhelmus Geertman in the humanitarian organization Alay Bayan Inc. (ABI) who accepted Geertman’s posthumous GBK award said “It is evident that poverty and more destructive natural disasters occur when our environment has been severely eroded.” They witnessed it for themselves in Zambales and in other provinces of Central Luzon where they are based.
The GBK also recognized and honored Geertman’s environmental advocacies. A Dutch missionary, Geertman dedicated 42 years of his life to activism in the Philippines until his murder in July 2012. From health and education to community-based disaster management programs, Geertman and his colleagues rendered services that empowered local communities to rise up and help themselves, the GBK committee said.
At the time of his death, Geertman was promoting the rights of peasants, workers, as well as campaigning against logging in Aurora province, large-scale mining operations and other environmentally destructive projects in the country.
Frances Quimpo, executive director of Philippine-based Center for Environmental Concerns, said during the awarding ceremonies, “The commitment to protect and nurture the environment and national patrimony is not an easy road to take. Not only does it require patience and perseverance, energies and strength of will, but in other times, it also costs peoples’ lives.”
Marin and Geertman are unfortunately only two of environment defenders who died in the course of protecting and nurturing the environment and the lives of people living on it. Some past recipients of GBK Awards were also dead heroes.
Quimpo said the GBK Awards “cannot measure up with the actual contributions of the heroes for the environment, but the biennial awards event is launched precisely because the heroism of our farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, women, workers and professionals, their communities and organizations which face daily challenges from extractive and destructive industries, deserve the country’s acclaim.”
“Let it be a reminder to the greatness and bravery of our environment’s heroes,” Quimpo said.
Rodne R. Galicha, one of the three individual GBK awardees this 2013, wore a bright red shirt to the awarding ceremony “because environmental defenders are also endangered species. In the red list.” Appraising the audience who came that night to honor the GBK awardees, Galicha urged them in Filipino that “hopefully, even if as endangered species we die, let’s go after the masterminds.”
Rodne Galicha is praised by the GBK committee as a dedicated, vigilant guardian of the environment. Like Marin, he came also from the island of Sibuyan. Galicha is an active participant in environmental protection and conservation issues in his hometown, and was instrumental in the passage of a mining moratorium ordered by the governor of Romblon Province. Often invited as a speaker in international fora, Galicha was even trained as an official presenter for Al Gore’s The Climate Reality Project.
With two individual honorees from Romblon, its provincial governor, Eduardo C. Firmalo, also attended the GBK awarding ceremony.
3 orgs honored as heroes of the environment
Three organizations also received the GBK nod, with one of it, the Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization, receiving this year’s “most Distinguished Awardee.”
The Kababaihang Nagtataglay ng Bihirang Lakas (KNBL) is a women’s group in Davao City, aspiring for food security and sovereignty through organic farming. The GBK Board of Judges praised their contribution as going beyond empowering others to engage in safe organic food production. It said KNBL was also successful in campaigning against corporate aerial spraying and field trials of the genetically modified BT eggplant. The group is also recognized for having pushed for the passage of the Organic Agricultural Ordinance and its implementing rules together with other people’s organizations and NGOs in Davao.
“This award is for all Filipino farmers,” said the leaders of KNBL during the awarding ceremony. Anita Maranan, speaking for KNBL, said in Ilonggo (translated for the audience by Gabriela Women Party Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan), that women have a huge role in agriculture, and that in all of the various tasks involved in planting and harvesting, everybody has a hand in protecting the environment. She vowed to continue their advocacies and to continue empowering women in their huge role in production and protecting the environment.
The Magsasaka at Siyentista para sa pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG), another organizational awardee, is a farmer-led network of people’s organizations, non-government organizations and scientists that believes agro-biodiversity is a vital resource in sustainable rural development and should thus be conserved and managed by farmers themselves. The GBK committee praised its work of engaging in various multi-sectoral information and education initiatives, sustainable agriculture practices, lobbying from local to national levels, and filing legal actions against genetically modified eggplant field testing.
Datu Jomorito Guaynon received the “Most Distinguished Awardee” for Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization. He said the regional IP organization’s activities today is a continuation of the struggle of their first leaders initiated during the Marcos dictatorship.
Under the administration of President BS Aquino, seven lumad leaders have been slain for defending their ancestral domain against landgrabbing and incursion of large-scale mining, logging and plantation operations. As he received the award, in fact, another lumad leader was added to the list of victims of extra-judicial killing.
“Until now, we are set to continue our struggle. Anything we can find to defend our environment, we will use it,” Guaynon told Bulatlat.com.
At present, numerous para-military task forces have been deployed in Mindanao to protect corporate mining and plantation investments. It has prompted some of the indigenous peoples to launch tribal wars of defense. Based on Bulatlat.com‘s interview with Guaynon, the GBK’s Most Distinguished Awardee for the environment is in fact proud of its history of having elders and leaders who had held guns “to defend our mountains and rivers.”
Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, one of the GBK Board of Judges, said the GBK is “a relevant sign of the times.” He expressed hopes that we would see the awardees’ viewpoint and standpoint in our own actions, that these people could help imprint on our minds important truths about the environment and how we treat it. He urged the public to praise the people and organizations “that we can call as genuine heroes in these important concerns. Let these be seeds, these biennial awarding, that will continue tomorrow to bear fruit.”