Two earnest young senators started big on environment issues in the 8th Congress, the first Congress after martial rule, and which started real and serious work in 1987. They were Heherson Alvarez and Orlando Mercado. Both were former student activists and anti-Marcos dissenters. Mercado fought from the trenches while doing broadcasting work and Alvarez had to flee to the US aboard a cargo ship to avoid arrest and detention. He was with the group of US-based exiles derided by Marcos as the “ Steak Commandos.”
After their election to the senate in 1987, they chose to walk the legislative path not taken – environmental issues.
The hot environmental issue at that time (the late 80s) was the depleted forest reserve, down to about one million hectares from 12 million just two decades earlier due to rampant legal and illegal logging. Alvarez and Mercado filed two versions of the logging ban, with the Mercado version as the “radical” one. Sonny Alvarez’s version proposed a less radical version, which left a few provinces still opened to logging. Alvarez is a native of Isabela, then a big logging province, and you can see the “local factor” in his moderate “logging ban” bill.
Even with the measures focused on the seemingly narrow area of logging and reforestation, the broad sweep envisioned in the bills was clear. Healthy forests would help prevent soil erosion, help clean the air and nurture the rivers and other bodies of water. The issues covered in the logging bills covered roughly two thirds of the issues that now fall under the general heading of climate change initiatives. The logging measures are actually the 21st century version of climate change initiatives in Congress.
While Mercado wandered into other areas of legislation such as health care, Alvarez sought to be the Philippine version of Al Gore, the former US vice president, who beat George W. Bush in the US popular vote in 2000 but lost the Electoral College vote due to a high court ruling on the Florida votes.
Like Gore, Sonny Alvarez became a lifelong crusader for environmental issues and causes.
Where is Sonny Alvarez now? Before we answer that, let us first take a look on where the crusades of Al Gore have taken him.
Gore became a very wealthy man a few years back after the sale of his TV outfit at a price that will set him out for life. His name is often mentioned as an alternative to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race in case something derails the candidacy of Clinton.
Gore is still a very prominent man, with his board seat at one of the world’s largest technology firm, his award-winning documentaries on the warming planet, his writings on global warming, his venture capital firm.
Ok, we go, sadly, to Sonny Alvarez.
Sonny Alvarez, is without doubt, the most knowledgeable Filipino public figure on environmental issues, from the broad concepts to the nitty-gritty, technical level details. But despite having a minor appointment, climate change commissioner, the government of Mr. Aquino has largely ignored the total mastery of Alvarez of global warming issues.
Alvarez, on the basis of his life-long crusade for the environment and his total mastery of the issue, should have been the public face of the Philippine efforts to take part in the global undertakings to ease greenhouse emissions. He should have played a lead role in the crafting of the COP 21 Accord. But did he?
He was there as an “ extra,” ignored and rudely treated. I don’t think he was even named the spokesman of the Philippine efforts. Poseurs and Johnny-come-latelies hogged the limelight and shooed Alvarez away.
Where is Mercado now?
Back to radio.
While global warming and life-and-death environmental issues have propelled foreign public figures who have mastered the issues into status of persons with real gravitas, this is not the case in the Philippines. Exhibit A is the case of Alvarez. A public figure who dedicates his life and work to environmental issues finds himself with no award and no recognition. Worse, he is often regarded as a nuisance by the present mandarins. Grandees with political connections but with no real depth on global warming and environmental issues have played the starring roles.
The tragedy of Alvarez is rooted on the skin-deep focus at the official level on environmental issues and the public’s general apathy towards anything that says “environment” or “global warming.”
Woe to the public figures who have made it the cause of the lives. They don’t last long in the public arena. They just plod along, carrying small titles and carrying plastic sticks.
If and when Sonny Alvarez throws the question of “Who is listening to me,” I will provide a light, ready answer. Cecile (the wife) , Hexilon (his son) and Chola (a former key staff ). And me, because I know he is a very serious man and I listen to serious people.