Filipino Environmental Heroes at Risk

15 March 2018

Seven exemplary individuals and organizations were recognized today in the 5th Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan (GBK) Awards Ceremony held in the Institute of Biology Auditorium, National Science Complex, University of the Philippines Diliman Campus.
It is notable that 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 bi-annual 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 of at least 41 environment-related killings in 2017 alone. The 5th GBK’s heroes are struggling for the environment in this context of impunity, facing risks of illegal arrest, trumped-up charges, and even death.
Individual recognitions were given to Josefina Panginen, a half-blind day-care teacher turned daring farmer leader in Aurora who successfully defended their part of the Sierra Madre mountain range from 30 large-scale mining applications and various logging companies.
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 region of Cagayan Valley.
Francis Morales, long-time civic leader in the Davao region, was posthumously awarded for being instrumental in the organizing of 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 Aeta Association (CLAA) was also borne from the rubbles of disaster as it organized indigenous Aeta tribes in 1991 in response to the displacement of their communities from Mt. 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 (CLANS), 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 their 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 supply 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.
It is hoped that as we bring these stories from the margins to the fore, the Filipino public and especially our youth will learn and live the lessons from the lives of these environmental heroes. May the national government understand that defending the environment is never a crime, and finally address the adversities environmental defenders confront and heed their demands and aspirations.#
Executive Director
Center for Environmental Concerns
5th GBK Main Organizer
National Coordinator
Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment
5th GBK Partner Organization
The Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines in cooperation with Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan Awards Committee and the GBK’s collaborating organizations, is pleased to launch the fifth Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan (GBK), a biennial awards event and lecture series honoring Filipino heroes and heroines who have defended the environment and people’s rights.

Following a nationwide process of nomination and selection, each GBK honors a roster of seven awardees composed of three individuals, three organizations and a most exemplary individual or organization. It is followed by a lecture series in the form of forums for dialogue, education, and learning between the awardees and the general public.

National Secretariat
Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment
26 Matulungin St. Central District, Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines, 1100
Tel: 02 356 21 66 | E-mail: | Site: