Remembering the late former Sen. Heherson Alvarez
MANILA, Philippines — Former Sen. Heherson “Sonny’’ Alvarez, a staunch freedom fighter during the Marcos dictatorship, environmentalist and a firm human rights advocate, died of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on Monday. He was 80.
His death in the hospital was confirmed by his son Hexilon, who said in a text message to Inquirer.net, “Yes. We are all still in a state of immense grief and shock.”
Alvarez and his wife, Ramon Magsaysay awardee and theater artist Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, contracted COVID-19 in March, were intubated in the hospital and, at one point, were reported to be “in critical condition.” Cecile’s condition has improved, but his did not.
Alvarez fought the Marcos dictatorship while serving as one of the youngest delegates to the 1971 Constitutional Convention. He went underground after President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law and to evade a reported “shoot-to-kill” order against him.
Exile in US
He went on exile in the United States and founded the Ninoy Aquino Movement, named after Marcos’ top political rival, former Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., which demanded that the US government cut military and economic aid to the dictatorship.
On May 1, 1986, a few months after the Edsa People Power Revolution that year toppled Marcos, Alvarez was appointed agrarian reform secretary by President Corazon Aquino, Ninoy’s widow.
He was elected senator in the 1987 elections that led to the restoration of Congress and reelected to another six-year term in 1992.
Alvarez was the principal author of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
“I had the great opportunity to learn from this reasonable and hardworking lawmaker as a neophyte senator in 1992 when I first joined the Senate,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III said.
“His legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of the people, and his name will forever be etched in our country’s rich history,” he said.
‘Passion of a patriot’
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said Alvarez “crafted policies, defended these on the floor and interpellated in plenary with the skill of a seasoned parliamentarian and the undiminished passion of a patriot.”
“He had the gift of gab and the wisdom that went with it,” Recto said.
Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, himself a survivor of the COVID-19 infection, described Alvarez as one of the original environmentalist advocates in the Senate, having authored many laws to protect the environment and address climate change.
In his Senate profile, Alvarez was called “Mr. Environment.’’ He convened the First Asia-Pacific Conference on Climate Change in Manila in 1995.
In 1998, Alvarez was elected representative of the fourth district of his home province, Isabela.
Alvarez maintained his advocacy even if he was no longer a legislator, Zubiri said.
“Senator Alvarez would always touch base with me to discuss environmental issues during the deliberation of bills and even the budget policies that could affect the environment,” he recalled.
Alvarez served as environment secretary from 2001 to 2002 and was instrumental to the passage of the Clean Air Act. He also authored the resolution declaring April 22 “Earth Day” and founded the Earth Savers Movement.
He chaired the advisory board of the Climate Institute, one of the oldest think-tank environmental groups based in Washington, and crafted the Philippines’ National Framework Strategy on Climate Change.
In 2009, he was appointed presidential adviser on global warming and climate change. From 2010 to 2015, he served as commissioner and vice chair of the Climate Change Commission. In 2003, after his stint as environment secretary, he became presidential adviser on overseas Filipino communities. From 2005 to 2007, Alvarez served as presidential adviser on agrarian reform.
His colleagues in the Senate lamented the fact that Congress could not accord him due recognition while Luzon is under lockdown. Sotto said it pained him that both chambers of Congress could not hold a necrological service for Alvarez at this time.
Zubiri said he would introduce a resolution on May 4, the resumption of the Senate session, to honor Alvarez.
Alvarez was born in Santiago, Isabela, on Oct. 26,1939.
He studied liberal arts and law at the University of the Philippines and obtained a master’s degree in economics and public administration from Harvard University. He received the Outstanding Human Rights Award from the Fund for Free Expression in New York.
He had a doctorate of environmental science from Mindanao State University.
“Rest in peace to our environmental warrior, a comrade in the climate fight, Sen. Heherson T. Alvarez. Another COVID-19 victim,” Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said in a Facebook post.
—WITH REPORTS FROM DAPHNE GALVEZ AND INQUIRER RESEARCH
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