A HALF-BLIND day-care teacher from Aurora Province led the 2018 Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan (GBK)awardees.
Josefina Panginen, the day-care teacher turned farmer-leader, successfully defended their part of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range from mining and logging companies wanting to do business in the area.
Seven individuals and organizations were given recognition during the fifth Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan Awards held at the Institute of Biology Auditorium, National Science Complex of the University of the Philippines-Diliman Campus on Thursday.
Archbishop Sergio Utleg, a staunch advocate for the Stewardship of Creation, was recognized for being a constant “rock and foundation” of the pro-environment movements that successfully closed down illegal black-sand mining operations and other ecological threats in the Cagayan Valley region.
Francis Morales, a long-time civic leader in the Davao region, was posthumously awarded for being instrumental in organizing typhoon Pablo survivors and harnessing resilient and sustainable agriculture to meet their post-disaster needs.
Organizational awards were given to the formations that exemplified how people’s movements can overcome adversity, such as the People Surge Alliance in Eastern Visayas, “children of the storm” transformed into justice seekers who were victorious in asserting the delivery of long-denied emergency shelter, and other recovery and rehabilitation assistance for their fellow survivors.
The Central Luzon Ayta Association was also borne from the rubbles of disaster as it organized indigenous Ayta tribes in 1991 in response to the displacement of their communities from Mount Pinatubo’s eruption. The CLAA has over two decades of struggle overcoming mining interests and other encroachments into their ancestral land amid the chaos of the eruption up to the present.
The Center for Lumad Advocacy, Networking and Services, a service institution that has constructed community learning schools and other community-based initiatives for the indigenous lumad in Socsksargen region, was especially recognized for providing education to lumad people long-denied their basic rights, and for empowering them in the process to restore their forests, promote sustainable agriculture and protect the environment.
The most distinguished award was given to Bai Bibyaon Ligkaian Bigkay, the only living woman warrior, and chieftain of the lumad who took the helm in asserting their right to their ancestral domains in the Pantaron Mountain Range and in preserving the rich biodiversity and natural resources.
The impregnable defense of the 12,600-square-kilometer Pantaron by Bai Bibyaon and her fellow lumad is the single-biggest factor in preserving one of the largest remaining virgin forests in the country that supplies the water of major rivers in Mindanao, play host to immeasurable biodiversity and link important breeding sites of the Philippine eagle at Mount Kitanglad and Mount Apo.
The event was organized by the Center for Environmental Concerns with the support of the Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment. In a statement, organizers said it is notable this year’s unsung heroes of the environment may be the “bravest” in the context of their legacies facing the deadliest times Filipino environmental defenders have ever confronted since the biannual award-giving body began in 2009.
The London-based international watchdog Global Witness recently declared the Philippines as the second deadliest country in the world for environmental and land defenders, noting at least 41 environment-related killings in 2017 alone.
The fifth GBK’s heroes are struggling for the environment in this context of impunity, facing risks of illegal arrest, trumped-up charges and even death.