Friday, June 18, 2021

Remembering 'frontliner' Alvarez this Earth Day

HAVE you seen the meme about one can be a patriot these days just by staying home amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic?

Comparisons are made about the old days when citizens are called to fight during a war whilst today in the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon, one can already feel accomplished or heroic even by staying indoors to prevent the spread of the virus.

Being 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 was when the government and our democracy was being rebuilt and the country opening up to globalization.

In our sala in Marawi, I used to look up to a vintage photo imprinted on wood hanging on the wall showing my father, Alexander Mama-o, with then Senator Heherson "Sonny" T. Alvarez and it was with us as we moved places to Cagayan de Oro to Butuan.

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

That figure of Alvarez that remained in my memory as a freedom fighter and human rights champion has suddenly and saddeningly been recollected now that the Covid-19 has claimed a longtime frontliner in public service whose legacies I hope the Generation Z and the next Filipino generations would come to know, appreciate, and remember.

Even before being organic and being environment-friendly became the in thing to do and way back before Al Gore showed his award-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" that awakened the world to act on climate change, our very own Alvarez was already leading the fight for us to have a sustainable earth at least starting in our own country.

Who is Sonny Alvarez? What has he done that remains relevant today and for posterity?

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 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 8479), setting standards for ambient air and emissions from all air pollution sources and strengthened the government structure for 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 (CARL), the centerpiece program of the Aquino administration which provided for an equitable distribution of land for landless farmers. He also led the enactment of the Indigenous People Rights Law (IPRA).

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

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

Indeed, the sacrifices and difficulties of today's youth are minimal compared to the challenges and oppressions of the Martial Law years and the previous colonial era.

While one can wonder what grand legacy one can leave to our nation, to our contemporary history, to posterity, let's begin with doable steps like staying home amid the ECQ without much whining and by being productive. As they say, if you want to change the world, start with yourself first.

Today, as we celebrate the Earth Day, let's remember 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 lead us through whatever darkness and enemies, be it visible or invisible, befall our land.

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


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


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