• Searching for green heroes

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    I WRITE this as classes were suspended due to the rains unleashed by Typhoon Falcon enhancing the effects of the monsoon or habagat. The continuing vulnerability of Metro Manila and the whole country to typhoons and flooding is again being demonstrated in a very direct way. Despite the new technologies that we are using to monitor and predict the weather, we are still far from being ready when the rainy season starts.

    Part of the problem is not just on the weather monitoring side. The vulnerability partly stems from the continuing social and economic policies that make it difficult for our people to rise above disasters. One of these are the problems brought about by environmental destruction. It seems that one needs to be a hero before we can surmount the ecological problems that our country has.

    It is thus timely that civil society organizations led by Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines (CEC-Phils) is launching the Fourth Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan (GBK) to honor individuals and groups dedicated to the defense of the environment and the rights of the people. Frances Quimpo, the executive director of the CEC-Phils, notes that their search for environmental heroes is but a small part in giving tribute to those who waged environmental struggles by individuals or groups who are willing to risk— or have risked their lives— to defend the Philippine environment.

    Quimpo said the GBK is looking for those who have braved the challenges of keeping the balance in our critical environment and defending the rights of communities for healthful ecology in the midst of massive environmental destruction caused by plunder for profit, disasters, and even corruption.

    According to the CEC-Phils, defending the environment is not an easy task. They noted that since 2001, 74 environmental advocates – not including unaccounted cases – have been killed in the country, more than 70 percent of them anti-mining activists. As of 2013, according to the group, at least 23 cases of harassment suits, three cases of enforced disappearances, seven cases of frustrated murder and 29 cases of illegal detention involving environmental advocates have been recorded by the Task Force – Justice for Environmental Defenders. This makes us the third deadlieast country, and the “most perilous” in Asia, for environmental defenders according to the international watchdog, Global Witness.

    Yet the collective action from ordinary people and groups who continue to defend the country’s national patrimony through their advocacies and campaigns can be as heroic as well. The GBK recognizes grassroots efforts to protect the environment which can be in various forms such as advocacy, campaigns, research, community services and mass media or cultural work.

    Quimpo sums it well when she said that “the true mark of an environmental hero/heroine is the willingness to serve others and the environmental cause without expecting rewards. For a hero/heroine, there is no big or small act. Each day is an opportunity to serve.”

    CEC-Phils stressed that one main objective of GBK is to educate the public about the different heroic of ordinary Filipinos. They carry out a lecture series hosting the winners of the GBK around different schools in Metro Manila. In the GBK in 2013, high school and college campuses in Metro Manila, including University of the Philippines-Diliman, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Technological Institute of the Philippines and others, were visited by relatives and colleagues of the 2013 GBK winners to impart the lives and teachings of the three recipients: environmental activists Armin Marin and Willem Geertman, and youth leader-advocate Rodney Galicha.

    Three organizations such as Kababaihang Nagtataglay ng Bihirang Lakas (KNBL), Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization and Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura Incorporated (MASIPAG) were also recognized for their efforts and advocacies regarding environmental preservation and protection.

    There are three categories in the awards. The first one, the Most Distinguished GBK award, is given to an individual or organization in recognition of his/her/ their being an inspiration and example to the Filipino people for offering time and talents for the defense of the environment and advancement of the people’s welfare. There is an Individual Award given to individuals who have demonstrated extraordinary ability and effort to uphold the environment and people’s welfare, whether in the form of advocacy, campaigns, education, research, technology development, community services, mass media, or cultural work. The third award will be given to people’s and community organizations and institutions that have done the same.

    These alternative awards event is open to all Filipino individuals and organizations. Three individuals and three organizations, plus a most distinguished awardee, will be chosen by an independent board of judges. Nomination forms and other information on GBK can be accessed at www.cecphils.org. Nominations for the fourth GBK officially opened in September last year and will close on the midnight of August 31, 2015. The awarding ceremony will be held on December 2015.

    The Fourth GBK is co-organized by the GBK Awards Committee, AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, Alay Bayan Luson Inc., Center for Disaster Preparedness, Cordillera People’s Alliance, Farmers Development Center, Panalipdan Mindanao, MASIPAG (Farmer-Scientiest Partnership for Development) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources- Special Concerns Office.

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