Ramon Magsaysay awardee lawyer Antonio “Tony” Oposa has been Mother Nature’s leading litigator way before it became fashionable to do so. His landmark cases against the Philippine government, which included the depletion of virgin forests and cleanup of the Pasig River, has rallied people on the need for awareness and education on the environment.
This time, he is breaking ground in his advocacy in a new book that is rich in vision, visuals and virtue told in a narrative that is passionate, persuasive and personal.
Launched recently at the Henry Sy Sr. Innovation Hall of Miriam College, Quezon City, Shooting Stars and Dancing Fish: A Walk to the World We Want, is a picture-and-storybook that speaks to ordinary people, especially to the young, thought-leaders and action-oriented citizens.
The Oposa Doctrine
New readers will find the book interesting as Oposa recalled his very first environmental case that would later be a springboard to his other cases. After all, his major contribution to international environmental law is the principle of intergenerational responsibility, which is also known as the Oposa Doctrine. It argued that future generations could be protected in court, and set a precedent on how citizens can leverage the law to protect the environment.
“I argued that at the rate we were cutting down forests, there would be nothing left for my children to see, and other children of the generations and those yet unborn,” Oposa explained.
For all his landmark legal victories and his practices on environmentalism and environmental law, he was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2009. He received the The Outstanding Young Man in 1993 and the United Nations Environmental Program Global Roll of Honor in 1997, as well as the internationally acclaimed International Environmental Law Award in 2008.
Game changer for the environment
When asked if he considered himself an activist, Tony replied in the opposite. “I consider myself an ‘actionist,’” he said. “Many activists tend to talk and theorize but do not make concrete action. When I have an idea of things, I translate them into actions.”
He is advocating two radical solutions that he felt would spell a big difference for the environment—edible landscaping and rain gardens, and road sharing.
Edible landscaping means turning idle land into plots for growing vegetables and fruits. “It would solve problems of starvation,” he said. “All people can benefit from it. People should learn to share resources, like food and benefit from others, too.”
One setup may be to involve planters into farming cooperatives to divide the harvests and the profits from selling cops.
“This way, even if you don’t have money you don’t worry if you get hungry.”
On the other hand, rain gardens are man-made catchments for rain outpour. “Instead of the water flowing out from canals, the run-off become natural irrigation for plants and foliage,” Oposa explained.
One of his most ambitious ideas yet would be the road-sharing scheme, in which he proposed for a dedicated lane for public transportation, lesser use of private cars and creating dedicated bicycle lanes.
“The problem with us is that we patterned our development after the West and we called it ‘progress’,” he said.
He added that the idea was even plausible to all the transport groups, but was sidetracked by the transition in government last year.
“I wrote to Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade,” he revealed. “Until now I have yet to receive a reply.”
Merging love for art and the environment
At present Oposa is rebuilding and repurposing his Bantayan Island property, which he previously called the School of the Sea and Earth Advocates and now known as Sea and Earth Advocates of Culture, Arts and Music, which will include a mini museum and gallery.
He is inviting people to visit it as soon as the renovations are finished in 2018. “I’ll give you a tour of the place myself,” he eagerly said. “Children can do art activities and learning about nature. I have a rainwater garden where migratory egrets come.”
The launching of his newest book was an intimate gathering of some of his closest friends and fellow colleagues in the environmental movement, which included former Environment secretaries Angel C. Alcala and Elisea Gozun, former Head Grace Pulido-Tan, former Puerto Princesa mayor Edward S. Hagedorn and Cravings Group President Susana Pascual-Guerrero.
“No other man that I know here in the country has the passion like that of Tony,” said Pascual-Guerrero, who is also a president of the Zero Waste Philippines and a kindred spirit. “I have learned a lot of things from him as an environmentalist myself. We owe him a lot and we can return the gesture by sharing his wisdom and ideas to the world through this book.”