5 Decades, 5 Champions: Von Hernandez
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we will be featuring 5 local Environmental Defenders who tirelessly fought and championed their respective environmental causes in the last 5 decades.
Von Hernandez is a decorated Asia’s leading activist against waste incineration. He helped make history in 1999 when the Philippines became the first country in the world to ban waste incineration nationwide.
He grew up in Manila and became active in the incineration issue while working as Asia Toxics Campaigner for Greenpeace International. Through his campaigns, he realized that it was not only hazardous waste, but also toxic technologies that multinational companies were exporting throughout the region.
Hernandez is the lead convener of the Philippine Clean Air Coalition and the Coordinator of Greenpeace International’s Toxics Campaign in Asia. In 1998, he helped turn the incineration controversy in the Philippines into a national electoral issue through organizing mass protests, testifying in hearings, and waging national public education campaign in the media. Through his efforts and dedication, the incineration ban was approved in Clean Air Act of 1999. However, the incineration ban was repealed by powerful members of the Congress and local government units who are affiliated to waste management industry in order to push forward proposals to install mega-incinerators and landfills.
After the triumph of the campaign to ban incineration, Hernandez moved swiftly to create the EcoWaste Coalition and urge the Philippine government to adopt legislation that would manage and allocate resources to more sustainable methods of waste disposal that indirectly pushed forward the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act that was adopted in January 2001 which is the tipping point of advancing the solid waste management practices in the country.
With Hernandez’ track record in environmental activism, he was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize which led to the first national ban on waste incineration. He also gained recognition from Asia Inc. magazine as one of Asia’s Young Movers and Shakers in 2004, and from Time magazine as one of the Heroes for the Environment in 2007.
In receiving his Goldman Environmental Prize, Hernandez said, “For us, these communities epitomize the enduring triumph of common sense and public participation over ignorance, greed, and apathy which dumpsites like Payatas and Smokey mountain have come to represent. These modern-day museums of corporate irresponsibility are burning reminders of everything that is wrong with our throwaway society and with the corrupt system that bedevils the lifeblood of our nation.”
“Paradoxically, amid poverty and squalor lie hope and redemption. In a community in Smokey Mountain, you will find good, old-fashioned hope in the efforts of a priest organizing the women, the youth, and the jobless into a recycling cooperative. In the middle of a garbage dump, a community garden comes to life. The people that make this happen are the real heroes in the war for sustainability.
The war on waste is a war against greed, ignorance, and apathy. This is the war that needs to be waged. If ever there was a just and moral war that needs to be fought and won, this is it. The wastefulness of our societies is compromising the ability of nature to sustain our needs and those of future generations. The war on waste reminds us that the general direction of rescue and redemption for our planet lies in better humanity than better technology. Thank you and let’s all work together to build a better world for our children,” he added.
Photo from goldmanprize.org