Father Neri Satur, alive through modern environmental heroes

ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces -

Last Holy Week, Pope Benedict XVI listed the destruction of the environment as one of several “new sins” that the faithful must avoid. And recently, when typhoons and disasters hit the Philippines because of denuded forests, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo pronounced that illegal loggers should be treated like heinous criminals, placed in the same category of drug pushers and terrorists because of their countless innocent victims.

The voices of vigilance in protecting our forests have been echoing throughout the decades, and among the most vocal were priests and the religious sector. One of them was Fr. Neri Satur of Bukidnon. Dubbed as a “green priest” for his defense of our forests, Fr. Satur lost his life in fighting for his convictions. As a deputized forest ranger, Fr. Satur confiscated truckloads of timber being brought down from the mountains of Bukidnon, earning the ire of illegal loggers. He and his supporters — backed by then Bukidnon Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales, himself a “green priest” — intercepted these trucks and worked for the arrest of illegal loggers. On Oct. 14, 1991, three men, allegedly hired by the illegal loggers he angered, killed Fr. Satur. His head was smashed by a rifle’s butt. Later, he was shot pointblank with a shotgun.

Inspired by the heroism of Fr. Satur, then chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Isabela Congressman, Senator Heherson T. Alvarez, who eventually served at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has institutionalized a posthumous award in his honor — the Fr. Neri Satur Award for Environmental Heroism — for the Philippine observance of Earth Day. Alvarez sponsored this resolution in the Senate to encourage and inspire others to likewise protect the environment.

On Sunday, April 20, in “Sining Gising,” this year’s awardees will be featured in NCCA-DepEd TV program hosted by NCCA Executive Director Cecile Guidote Alvarez, broadcast on NBN Channel 4 from 4 to 6 p.m. Dipolog Bishop Jose Manguiran was nominated by former CBCP president, Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla, for being a true “earthsaver and a farmer,” who advocates for responsible mining. Nueva Vizcaya Bishop Ramon Villena was nominated by Cagayan Bishop Diosdado Talamayan for advancing the rights of indigenous peoples. Fr. John Couvreur, CICM, from the Parish of Saint John Evangelist in Quirino, Isabela, who is also chair of the Ecology Desk of the Diocese, was nominated by Laoag Bishop Sergio Utleg for running after illegal loggers and timber poachers in his hometown. Ecology-friendly business firm SM Group of Companies, through SM vice chair Ms. Tessie Sy, has been selected for implementing innovative eco-programs. Kongreso ng Komiks chairman Director Carlo J. Caparas, a popular TV-film director-writer, is being recognized for media advocacy. He has partnered with the Earthsavers Movement and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in holding a comics competition on climate change and the UN-Millennium Development Goals (UNMDG). Scientist-artist-educator Professor Tomas Ongoco, president of Quezon City Academy, has also been nominated for environmental education. His book, “Ambon sa Tagtuyot” contains the popularization of scientific data through drama and poems, including the ills of smoking, and a unique “Balagtasan on Climate Change.”

Posthumously, the Fr. Neri Satur Award for Environmental Heroism has been given as well to DENR employees and others who have sacrificed and focused on environmental protection. Fr. Neri’s heroism continues to be an inspiration to many, and it should continue to remind us of the need to protect the environment, especially now that we see the effects of global warming and climate change in our food supply. Here in the Philippines, we are seeing its effects on rice, our staple food. It is important that all sectors, particularly the youth take note, heed the alarm bells, and act appropriately for their own welfare and generations to come.

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