What do you do for the Earth? An environmental hero is someone who aims to take good care of his environment and makes a great impression for the benefit of its generation and the generations to come. Heroism comes from someone who is ordinary, but actually does something more than someone who is capable. It is a deed that is selfless that seeks to involve themselves with others’ problems. Anyone could actually be an environmental hero as long as they have the desire to learn how to align their goals in order to help protect and prevent further damages to the environment caused by mankind, despite the circumstances. Moreover, an environmental hero is someone who goes out of his or her way to fight for what is right, no matter what the odds are. They are the ones who continue to empower others by advocating the issues faced, helping people around them to be aware of their concerns.
Von Hernandez, current director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia and recipient of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2003, was recognized for his achievements in combating the environmental problems of the Philippines. He has been active in fighting for environmental rights since 1995 when he started working with Greenpeace International as coordinator for the environmental group’s toxics campaign in Asia. In the same year, Hernandez launched a campaign which revealed plans to set up waste incinerators to deal with the garbage problem coming from the rapidly growing cities in Metro Manila.
In this campaign, the economic loopholes aside from the environmental and health hazards from the process of incineration were exposed. As a result of this fight against the burning of waste, in 1999, Hernandez helped make history as the Philippines became the first country in the world to ban waste incineration nationwide. He is responsible for the Philippines Clean Air Act of 1999 which is banning waste incinerators that causes air pollution and human health problems. Furthermore, he is also responsible for Waste Management Act which requires the implementation of segregating garbage properly nationwide.
Waste disposal is a burgeoning problem in the Philippines especially in Metro Manila. EcoWaste cited from the National Solid Waste Management Commission that out of the 35,000 tons of waste the Philippines produces each day; 8,400 tons come from Metro Manila, accounting for one-fourth of the country’s daily output of solid waste. Currently, only nine have a solid waste management plan out of the 17 cities in Metro Manila and only about a third of the biodegradable wastes from the nine cities are being recycled into compost due to space constraints.
The continuing and growing problem regarding waste in Metro Manila led to the government’s attempt to adopt the incineration process in 1995, but fortunately, Hernandez along with his allies in the environmental movement made efforts to stop the plan. Hernandez and company disseminated to the local communities the hazardous effects that waste incinerators will bring, which include the largest source of hormone-disrupting dioxins, one of the most toxic chemicals known to science.
Additionally, the burning of waste also brings ash contained with heavy metals, such as lead, arsenic and cadmium that could pollute groundwater for generations. Studies also show that these chemicals are linked to human health problems such as birth defects, cancer, respiratory ailments and reproductive dysfunction among people who live near incineration plants. In support to this, a recent report reveals that dioxins in the breast milk of Filipino women who resides near and work in the Payatas dumpsite to be extremely high as compared to the normal limit set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
In his fight against incineration, Hernandez helped the issue to be brought into the national electoral issue in 1998. He helped in organizing mass protests, testified in hearings, arranged numerous lectures and a national public education campaign in the media to increase awareness of the public regarding the devastating health impacts of waste incineration and to bring to light other proven alternatives to burning waste. Hernandez gained widespread support for the campaign, including the support of the Catholic Church. Due to his ceaseless activism, he was continually attacked in the press by incineration industry lobbyists and government officials who supported incineration in order to protect their interests.
However, despite the attacks and the immense support of international financial institutions like the Asian Development bank, the World Bank and the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation to continue to promote incineration projects in the Philippines, Hernandez remains standing still because of his love for the environment. Aside from his fight to ban incineration, he also leads in promoting clean and green alternatives to waste incineration such as composting and recycling. Hernandez is also involved in various environmental initiatives and coalitions both at the national and international levels including the Global Anti-Incineration Alliance (GAIA), Waste Not Asia, Lakbay Kalikasan, the Ecowaste Coalition, the Sagip Pasig Movement, and the People’s Task Force for Bases Clean-up.
Von Hernandez is, indeed, a hero that people should look up to. He changed the perspective of society in order to live in greener atmosphere. Because of him, laws were implemented that aims to promote a healthier place for people. By speaking his mind, he saved thousands of lives from the exposure of harmful chemicals. Even though he has received threats from the opposing parties, he continues to do what he thinks is right. He is concerned for issues usually unnoticed by the public. Truly, his strong character deserves to be applauded and recognized as a model for the green revolutionary era.
EcoWaste statement on garbage along Roxas Blvd. in wake of Typhoon Gener | Community Bulletin Board | GMA News Online | The Go-To Site for Filipinos Everywhere. (2012, August 2). GMANetwork.com – Online home of the Kapuso Network. Retrieved September 25, 2012, from http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/267953/cbb/ecowaste-statement-on-garbage-along-roxas-blvd-in-wake-of-typhoon-gener
Goldman Prize. (n.d.). Goldman Prize For Excellence in Protecting the Environment. Retrieved November 26, 2012, from http://www.goldmanprize.org/2003/asia
Mariano, Dan.(2007, Oct 26).Filipino Environment Hero. The Manila Times, A4.