Heherson Alvarez fought the good fight

Published April 27, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin



Atty. Joey D. Lina
Atty. Joey D. Lina

Heherson “Sonny” Alvarez, my fraternity brother and closest friend ever since we were senators in the ’80s and ’90s, was every inch a warrior. An impassioned freedom fighter and human rights champion during the Marcos era, he carried the same passion to protect the environment until he breathed his last.

I still have not gotten over that fateful day last week when Sonny succumbed to the coronavirus. When I learned he passed away midday on April 20, I felt our country lost a great man – a pillar whose tenacity in warning and getting people to act on climate change was legendary.

For around a month, Sonny battled COVID-19. Despite the gallant efforts of his doctor and the blood plasma convalescent therapy, and the encouraging signs after, my brod still lost his life. I thought that when we were able to obtain a blood donor matching his type, he would overcome the virus. Yet our hopes were dashed. God indeed has his mysterious ways.

Needless to say, Sonny’s passing is saddening and quite painful for all his loved ones, especially his wife Cecile and children, and also his brods, colleagues, staff, constituents, and countless friends whose lives he had touched when he served in both Houses of Congress, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Climate Change Commission, among others.

But what is even more painful is the fact that in these trying times with the pandemic on a rampage, we were not able to see him off to his final resting place. Also, there were no traditional necrological rites at the Senate and House of Representatives where he served with distinction.

I’m sure that had there been memorial services for him, eulogies would have rekindled memories of his sterling achievements in life as a staunch environmentalist and relentless advocate of human rights and democracy.

While senator and then congressman, Sonny was known as Mr. Environment in pursuit of major legislation. At the House, he is best remembered for the Clean Air Act (RA 8479) and the Solid Waste Management Act (RA9003), among many others. At the Senate, his landmark laws include the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (RA 6657) and the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act (RA 7586).

He is also remembered for the introduction of unleaded gasoline into the Philippines in 1994 after he brought together the country’s three major oil players – Shell, Caltex and Petron – to sign the Healthy Air Pact of 1993 with then President Fidel Ramos. As a result, “an estimated 260 tons of lead in the atmosphere have been removed annually, and about P538 million savings on health costs have been realized.”

Many consider his leadership at the DENR and Climate Change Commission as truly outstanding. He was deemed a climate visionary long before former US Vice President Al Gore embarked on the 2006 award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth that sparked global support to combat the climate crisis.

Sonny’s ferocity in the pursuit of his advocacy on climate and environmental protection had seemed so enthralling to John Topping Jr., president of the Climate Institute based in Washington, DC, who said in December, 2009: “Heherson Alvarez is not the Al Gore of the Philippines. Al Gore is the Alvarez of the world.”

Even Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, when he was chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, acknowledged Sonny as “a prominent leader in the Philippines who has made major contributions in the fields of energy, environment, and climate change, both in the country and globally.”

As an unwavering advocate of freedom and human rights at the height of the Marcos dictatorship, Sonny founded the Ninoy Aquino Movement which The Wall Street Journal called the “biggest and best organized opposition movement in the US.”

On the struggle of Sonny and the movement then, an editorial last Friday said: “It took two years and house-to-house campaigning on a shoestring budget for him and other exiled opposition figures to gain headway. By gathering documents about the prime real estate in the United States that the Marcoses were gobbling up, the human rights abuses by the military back home, and the questionable Marcos wartime medals, the group gained media mileage in the United States and got the attention of American politicians who subsequently cut down US military support to Marcos.

“But Alvarez paid a high price for his work in the movement: He never got to see his father again, a guerrilla during the Japanese occupation who died of a heart attack after Heherson’s brother Marsman, also an activist, was abducted and ruthlessly tortured. Marsman’s mutilated body was found in the churchyard of the Alvarezes’ hometown of Santiago, Isabela.”

For his sacrifices and heroic pursuits while in self-exile in US, and for his unwavering commitment to “fight the good fight” in his various endeavors, Sonny deserves all the accolades from a grateful nation.

Farewell, my Brod. Your legacy of service to our homeland – marked by your selflessness in giving your  time, talent and treasure amidst the dangers you went through – to regain your people’s freedom and restore democracy shall forever be etched in our memory.

Your gallant efforts in a life well-lived shall serve as inspiration to your brods, the youth especially of this generation and the generations to come.

Brod, we share the same dream for our beloved country – a dream that will never die. By your death, our dream will become more alive and pursued with more vigor and resolve. Farewell, Brod Sonny. May God grant you eternal rest!

Email: [email protected]