Notes from the Field

Leading Filipino Environmentalist Lawyer Receives Ramon Magsaysay Award

September 9, 2009

“In 1990, when I was the Deputy Country Representative in the Philippines and teaching at Ateneo de Manila University Law School, my dear friend Tony Oposa approached me and said, ‘The legal system has to do more to enforce the environmental laws of the Philippines and respond to public demand for environmental protection, and I think that I can force the issue.’  I said:  ‘Ok, Tony, let’s give this a try.’  The Asia Foundation then made a modest grant to Bantay Kalikasan for environmental legal advocacy and awareness. The next thing I knew, Tony was suing the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (and its very progressive Secretary at the time) for environmental law enforcement on behalf of future generations. His temerity was justified by a victory in a Supreme Court decision on July 30, 1993. Tony’s creativity, commitment, and capacity to mobilize people is legendary. I’m moved that Tony has been recognized, quite rightly, by the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation with its prestigious award on Aug. 31, 2009. The Philippines is the deserving benefactor of Tony’s tireless efforts in the public interest of Filipinios.”

At the award ceremony held last month, Tony characteristically delivered an impassioned and poetic plea for the continuation of environmental protection across the Philippines. “Together,” he said, “we launch a movement to enlist Ten Million Filipinos for change. Not a change of the personalities in power, but rather change within each and every one of us.” He went on to implore, “Environmental security is the highest form of national security. Anyone who does not understand that has no right to aspire for any position of political power.”

To unchecked development, he added, “The economic mindset of uncontrolled extraction and consumption has brought us to the environmental crisis we now face – among them clear and present dangers of climate change. To get out of it, we need the opposite economic mindset – that of conservation, protection, and restoration.”

“This honor belongs to all our co-workers in the environmental movement, especially to my fallen friend Jojo de la Victoria. This award also belongs to the Supreme Court for reminding humankind that we are only the trustees of the land, the air, and the waters for the benefit of generations yet to come.”

The Asia Foundation’s Senior Legal Advisor Erik Jensen remembers the work of friend and colleague, Tony Oposa.

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