‘Heneral Luna’ in the time of climate change

Our constant search for heroism should not dwell on individual exploits. Our heroes teach us that the strength to change the world lies in the people working together

Leon Dulce

9:52:3am December 9, 2015

9:52:3am December 9, 2015

We are always in search of heroes, especially in these times of hardship when the rich are getting richer at the expense of the poor becoming poorer.

When chronic problems of the economy, labor, social services, human rights, and the environment have now converged in the worsening crisis of climate change, people are looking desperately for champions who will take on these overwhelmingly gargantuan problems.

But we do not have to look far to find hope in the many unsung Filipino heroes.

There is Marieta Corpuz, an Aeta woman who speaks few words but nevertheless found her voice in her tribe’s defense of ancestral lands against miners, loggers, and land grabbers such as the infamous Angara landlords of her province, Aurora.

FRONT LINE. Alta leader Marieta Corpuz addresses the people during an indigenous people’s protest action. (Photo from the Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan)

FRONT LINE. Alta leader Marieta Corpuz addresses the people during an indigenous people’s protest action. (Photo from the Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan)

Alongside her indigenous organization Samahan ng Katutubo sa Sierra Madre (SKSM) (Association of Indigenous at Sierra Madre), Corpuz united Aurora province’s indigenous peoples in resistance to development aggressions such as the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (APECO) and the Omnimines Development Corporation.

Corpuz endures constant military harassments, for which she is unable to return to her roots in Barangay Diteki, a price she is willing to pay for her unwavering leadership.

There is Dipolog’s faithful steward of Creation, Most Rev Jose Manguiran, a constant figure in the people’s struggles against the Canadian mining firm Toronto Ventures and other foreign large-scale mining projects in Western Mindanao, who gets constant death threats for his compelling actions against such destructive development aggressions.

Once in an interfaith pilgrimage to Mt Canatuan, Bishop Manguiran layed himself prostrate on the ground for a minute of silence, and planted his Bishop’s staff on the ground afterward. This, he said, was his prophetic plea for God’s intervention in the attacks against Zamboanga’s lands and people.

There is the late Engineer Fidela Salvador, who we endearingly call ‘Delle,' a development worker in Cordillera who used her technological knowledge in service of the poor. Engr Delle made use of her expertise in responding to Typhoon Pepeng (international name Parma), helping build storm-resilient shelters and irrigation systems for affected communities in Bokod, Benguet and Bontoc, Mt. Province underserved by the national government to date.

BUILDER. Engineer Delle Salvador (second from right) during their shelter reconstruction response to Typhoon Pepeng in 2009. (Photo from Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan)

BUILDER. Engineer Delle Salvador (second from right) during their shelter reconstruction response to Typhoon Pepeng in 2009. (Photo from Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan)

Delle also helped raise the consciousness of poor peasants to oppose big mines and mega dams throughout her decades of service. Delle’s family and colleagues believe she was mercilessly killed by military troops in 2014, in the middle of a monitoring and evaluation visit in one of her project sites, precisely for her defense of land and lives.

Environment champions

There are the men and women of the Bukluran para sa Inang Kalikasan – Batangas (BUKAL Batangas), a provincial alliance known for holding down the fort in the municipality of Lobo against the various attempts of different large-scale miners - the latest belonging to Australian-Canadian miner Egerton Gold - to start commercial operations that threaten unparalleled biodiversity from its ridges to its reefs.

BUKAL and the people of Batangas now face an impending 600-Megawatt Coal-Fired Power Plant in Batangas City. Their arduous but ardent defense is what stands between these polluters and the Verde Island Passage, the acclaimed "center of the center" of global marine biodiversity, and the remaining tropical rainforest corridors in their province.

REDRESS OF GRIEVANCES. BUKAL, together with the Archdiocesan Ministry for the Environment of Batangas and the people of Lobo, brought their protests before the central office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (Photo from the Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan)

REDRESS OF GRIEVANCES. BUKAL, together with the Archdiocesan Ministry for the Environment of Batangas and the people of Lobo, brought their protests before the central office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (Photo from the Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan)

There are the people’s scientists of the Institute for Environmental Conservation and Research (INECAR) from the Ateneo de Naga University, whose name has been precisely their urgent task since 1990. INECAR has provided rigorous scientific evidence as basis of various initiatives to protect the environment and conserve our natural resources in the Bicol region.

We witnessed their unstinting principles for people and environment in their rigorous technical assessments before, during, and after the massively pollutive mining operations of the Lafayette Mine in the island of Rapu-Rapu, Albay. INECAR continues to be a defiant scientific voice against the white noise of corruption and greed that governs mining and mining policies in Bicol.

Then there is the Talibon-Trinidad Integrated Farmers’ Association (TTIFA) in Bohol, which has been proudly tilling the land they can call their own since their daring series of occupations of idle ranch lands of the Mitras and Cojuangcos from 1986 to 1990. TTIFA has grown from a humble 38 founders to its respectable 237 members today, and has transformed the land into a veritable hub of bountiful and sustainable agriculture.

TTIFA’s struggle for genuine land reform and promotion of agriculture that is harmonious with its surrounding ecosystems are clear successes where past and present administrations have consistently failed. Their successes stand on two legs: integrated practices of vermicomposting, mulching and herbalism on one, and resolute, organized militancy on the other.

Modern-day heroes

These are the awardees of the recently held Fourth Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan (GBK), a biennial awards event that recognizes exemplary individuals and organizations as the Philippines’ unsung environmental heroes.

Like the hero recently rediscovered by the Filipino public, General Antonio Luna, they are leaders, scientists, and revolutionaries that stood for the interests of the Filipino people against foreign aggressors. In the time of climate change, today’s Heneral Lunas are standing up against ‘CO2lonialism’ and foreign plunder — the big mines, coal power plants, and the interests of profit over people and planet.

Our constant search for heroism, however, should not dwell on individual exploits. Our heroes teach us that the strength to change the world lies in the people working together.

Consider this: ‘Luna’ is Spanish for the Moon, a silver comb left in the sky as consequence of self-indulgence over hard work, according to Filipino legend. Collectively, our environmental defenders are the ‘Lunas’ of our time — yes, the Filipino word for ‘solution.’ - Rappler.com

Leon Dulce is the campaign coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) and a volunteer campaigner for the Philippine counterpart of international youth-led climate network 350.org. Contact him through leon@kalikasan.net.