Verzola, father of Philippine email; 67
He was a man of many hats: an electrical engineer, a pioneering environmentalist, a mathematics professor, a social activist and a martial law detainee.
But Roberto Verzola, Obet to friends and family, gained renown among civil society circles as the father of Philippine email, having designed and setup email systems for nongovernmental organizations (NGO) in 1992, way before the internet had reached Philippine shores.
Verzola passed away on May 6 at the Capitol Medical Center in Quezon City, after hospital confinement for pneumonia. He was 67.
Environmental lawyer Ipat Luna recalled how Obet had “a decrepit-looking computer underneath his stairs that was providing a gateway to the NGO sector to communicate.”
Despite the economic possibilities offered by his innovation, Verzola shut down his operations in 2000 rather than charge higher fees for his services.
His sister May Rodriguez described him as somewhat the country’s own Don Quixote: eccentric yet idealistic and wise.
As a University of the Philippines student, he worked for the underground newspaper Taliba ng Bayan and paid dearly for it.
In October 1974, the then 21-year-old was taken by state forces and tortured. Between heavy blows of fists and bottles, he was repeatedly electrocuted, an ordeal that was almost ironic to the young Verzola who then was studying to be an electronics and communications engineer.
Verzola spent three years in detention, from 1974 to 1977.
After the dictatorship, he moved on to become a driving force behind environmental groups, among them the Philippine Greens, Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology, Systems for Rice Technology and Tanggol Kalikasan.
When the Department of Agriculture introduced genetically engineered Bt corn, Verzola led a one-month hunger strike outside the agency’s gates in 2003.
“He never asked for accolades,” said Red Constantino of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities. “It was enough for him to have the space, however small, to test his ideas and see them to fruition,” he added.
(ERRATUM: An earlier version of this article stated that Verzola did not file his claim from the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board. He did, in fact, receive compensation as a martial law survivor. We apologise for the oversight.)
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