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Heroes of the planet


The nation commemorated the martyrdom of Jose Rizal, who was executed 116 years ago yesterday. If not for Rizal and our many valiant heroes, who sacrificed their lives for us, then unborn, would we have enjoyed the freedom that we now have and unfortunately, take for granted? Rizal’s words in Noli Me Tangere tugs at our hearts: “I die without seeing the dawn brighten over my native land. You who have it to see, welcome it—and forget not those who have fallen during the night!”

As the year 2012 is about to end in a matter of hours, I take this opportunity to thank many champions who have the ferocious courage, the moral ascendancy and the sterling vision just like Rizal and other fallen heroes to help effect the much-needed societal change in our much-challenged home planet.

Several were executed, just like Rizal, for taking a strong stand against the wanton destruction of their ancestral domains and the elements of life, without which life is not possible. Some are Filipinos, others from other countries. Some have won awards, duly recognized for their selfless leadership.

But many more bask in unanimity, secure and happy that they are helping uplift lives and give hope to many, especially those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and environmental degradation.

One lawyer shared that his group filed over 40 cases against his government for violation of several environmental laws, and lost all of them. But, undeterred, they continue to do what is right.

Members of the academe, nongovernment organizations and people’s organizations are working tirelessly in communities, enhancing the awareness of the constituents on our connectedness with Nature and the need to protect other life forms, especially in areas where government’s presence is almost inexistent.

An example was Leonard Co, whom we lost tragically, whose life was ended while he was doing what he loved best, working in the forest, among the plants and trees that must have bowed to him in reverence and gratitude when bullets snuffed out his life on Nov. 15, 2010.

I never met Leonard Co and how I wish I was as privileged as his family and peers were to have known him. He is described as “the Filipino peoples’ botanist, conservation biologist, acupuncturist, ethnopharmacologist, and professor.” An acknowledged expert on the Philippine flora, he discovered and named several plant species and was extremely generous with his data and knowhow with anyone who cares to know and learn. He would have been 59 last Dec. 29.

“In 2007, Leonard founded the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society, Inc. (PNPCSI) and became its first president. The PNPCSI mission and vision were a reflection of Leonard’s personal advocacy, i.e. the use of native plants in forest restoration and landscaping, student mentorship, and making plant photographs and data available to the public to promote education and nature conservation. As a community outreach, he provided routine plant identification services at the UP-Diliman herbarium for students and the general public free of charge. Leonard also identified plant photographs through e-mail, texting, and Facebook.” (http://www.philippineplants.org/AboutLeonard.html)

His wife, Glenda, and his parents filed a murder complaint against members of the military who had reportedly fired on Co and his team of botanists while they were gathering plant specimens in Kananga, Leyte.

However, the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation cleared the military of any liability for the deaths in Leyte of Leonard Co and two of his companions, attributing it to an alleged encounter with the New People’s Army.

On Nov. 15, 2012, two years after his death, environmentalists and human rights advocates demanded the release of the resolution of the preliminary investigation conducted by the Department of Justice. “The protesters also delivered postcards to De Lima’s office that demanded ‘Justice for Leonard Co, Release DOJ Resolution Now!’”(Philippine Daily Inquirer, Nov. 16, 2012)

This month, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) recommended the filing of criminal charges against eight soldiers and their commanders for the killing of Leonardo Co. After an investigation, “CHR found that there was no fire fight and that the death of Co and his companions was due to the military’s failure to distinguish civilians from combatants. The CHR also cited alleged attempts to hide the crime by the soldiers and their battalion commander.”

The Inquirer in its December 20, 2012 issue, quoted CHR and reported that:

“This was a tragedy that should not have happened if the [military] had been more diligent in observing international humanitarian law in protecting the lives and safety of civilians.

“There was a failure to distinguish civilians from alleged combatants. There was failure to provide prompt medical attention to the wounded victim who died as a result.”

One of those who died with Co, a certain Borromeo “was wounded in the incident, but instead of getting medical assistance he was interrogated by the soldiers, the CHR said.” (http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/327127/soldiers-face-criminal-raps-for-killing-of-up-botanist)

May justice be finally accorded Leonard Co and the two persons who were with him, and several other defenders of Nature including indigenous peoples, who boldly and unflinchingly speak for Mother Earth.

We need more people like them, the real heroes of our planet.

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