Heherson Alvarez, environmental ‘frontliner’ | Inquirer Opinion
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Heherson Alvarez, environmental ‘frontliner’

I was born a year after the adoption of the 1987 Constitution, when the country was on a reset after the martial law period. My growing up years were also the years when the government and our democracy were being rebuilt, and the country was opening up to globalization.

In our sala in Marawi, I used to look at a vintage photo imprinted on wood hanging on the wall, showing my father, Alexander Mama-o, with then Sen. Heherson “Sonny” T. Alvarez. That picture came with us when we moved places to Cagayan de Oro and Butuan.

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Alvarez and my father worked together in the Ninoy Aquino Movement (NAM), the biggest and most organized opposition movement in America that Alvarez cofounded while on exile during martial law. My father was an overseas Filipino worker then in Saudi, and he helped lead the NAM chapter in the Middle East.

The Alvarez that remains in my memory, the freedom fighter and human rights champion, was suddenly and saddeningly recollected with the news that COVID-19 has claimed the longtime frontliner in public service, whose legacy I hope younger generations of Filipinos would come to know, appreciate, and remember.

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Even before going “organic” and being environment-friendly became the in thing to do, and way before Al Gore showed his award-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” that awakened much of the world to act on climate change, Alvarez was already leading the fight in this country for a sustainable planet.

As a seasoned legislator in the Senate and then in the House of Representatives, he stood out as Mr. Environment. He authored key environmental laws such as the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (Republic Act No. 9003), which promotes ecological waste management and creates necessary institutions for its implementation; the Clean Air Act (RA 8749), setting standards for ambient air and emissions from all air pollution sources and strengthening the government structure for the law’s implementation and enforcement; and RA 7638, creating the Department of Energy that liberalized the energy sector.

He introduced unleaded gasoline into the country in 1994 by bringing together the three major oil players—Shell, Caltex, and Petron—to sign the Healthy Air Pact of 1993 with then President Fidel V. Ramos. This initiated the drastic removal of lead from gasoline.

Aside from environment advocacy, he pushed for social and economic reforms. He authored the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, the centerpiece program of the Aquino administration, which mandated the equitable distribution of land for landless farmers. He also led the enactment of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act.

And perhaps with the prodding of his wife, Cecile Guidote Alvarez, the founder of the Philippine Educational Theater Association, he authored the law establishing the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

For me, Alvarez is the Dr. Jose Rizal of recent Philippine history—a visionary, well-rounded, and true patriot. May his tribe increase.

Last Wednesday was Earth Day. It was also Alvarez who authored the Senate resolution declaring April 22 as “Earth Day.” Let’s remember all his contributions to a free, resilient, clean, and sustainable Philippine nation, for these are rays of light that help lead us through whatever darkness and enemies, visible or invisible, may befall our land.

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Rest in peace now, Sir Sonny. ‘Twas a good fight! Snappy salute!

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Nesreen Cadar Abdulrauf-Hadjirasid is a Manila-based Maranao writer.

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