PERHAPS his name should be a wail or sorrow from Negrense environmental movement. We have lost a hero, a fighter to sepsis and pneumonia.
Ilocano Roberto “Obet” Verzola was a frequent visitor in Bacolod in the anti-GMO campaign in 2007, when the whole island has become a battleground between pros and antis. He was always a silent worker, letting me take the credit.
Eventually, the organic side won the day. Together with other Negros and Manila-based environmentalists, Obet advised us on relevant issues such as genetically modified food crop production.
I appreciated our face to face talks as well as his emails. He provided me with theoretical inputs on how to frame the issues. Widely read, he could talk of information technology, as well as debate on such issues on intellectual property rights, genetic engineering, election automation, and renewable energy back when hardly anyone else were talking about them.
Obet was a sustainable agriculture campaigner (formerly secretary-general) of Philippine Greens, a political formation based on the principles of ecology, social justice, self-determination, and non-violence. He was also a board member of PABINHI, a network of farmers, academics and other groups and individuals practicing and advocating sustainable agriculture.
He helped found Philippine Greens, Tanggol Kalikasan, Center for Renewable Energy, Sustainable Technologies, and Systems for Rice Technologies.
As author and mathematician, Obet was known in sustainable development circles as the “Father of Philippine email.” He set up email and internet connections for Philippine non-governmental organizations in 1992.
I was recruited to be a member of the Philippine Greens and collaborated with him on upland SRI based on farmer experiences in Bago and La Carlota.
I first met him in 1998 when we were invited to present in the Philippine Congress Negros experiences on organic food production. Although armed with a doctorate, he introduced himself as Obet. Titles meant nothing to him.
I knew of Obet as an associate editor of the Philippine Collegian. After college, I expected him to go higher places. He did. After getting a degree in engineering, he became a farmer. In fact, he married a farmer in Quezon province.
In 2003, he led the one-month hunger strike in front of the Department Agriculture gate in Quezon City against the agency’s introduction of Bt corn. He was aiming to die for his cause. I chastised him for an unnecessary sacrifice. He agreed with me.
Last time I met Obet, he told me that he was a teacher at UP Diliman Institute of Mathematics.
I won’t bid you goodbye, Obet. I hope to meet you on the other side of life when I claim my mansion that God, the Father promised us.