Today is Earth Day. If Mother Earth were a human being, we imagine her to be compassionate, courageous, inspirational, and beautiful in and out.
If Mother Earth happened to be Filipina, she would come in the form of Gloria "Golly" Estenzo Ramos, currently Vice-President of Oceana Philippines, award-winning columnist, and quite possibly the OG chief mermaid of the Philippine Seas. Golly has been at the forefront of many legal battles, filing strategic suits and sending a Notice to Sue to government agencies, all to protect the environment and her people against indiscriminate coal ash dumping, illegal dumping on coastlines, and violation of Solid Waste Management Law, to name a few.
She was also a leading voice in the campaign to stop oil exploration in Tañon Strait, the Philippines' largest marine protected area, and helped file a case against the oil exploration company on behalf of dolphins and whales (yes, you read that right) in 2007. Three years ago, on April 21, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the dolphins, whales, and thousands of fisherfolk and called the proposed exploration as "unconstitutional."
Read about Golly's thoughts on the Rule of Law, what she's given up for the environment, and words she lives by on this week's Seatizen Sunday.
What led you to your work?
I wanted to be a journalist when I was young. I took up law and was a teacher during summer break from law school and taught the Constitution to college students at the University of Cebu, then known as Cebu College of Commerce.
A special person named Tony Oposa invited me to set up the Visayan team of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines' National Environmental Action Team (NEAT), which he spearheaded in the early 2000s.
A few years ago, I was invited by Oceana to work with them, as they heard a lot from several people about the work that we were doing.
Tell us about your current work.
I head the Oceana Philippines team and represent the Philippines in our Executive Committee. I oversee the campaigns, ensure the achievement of our campaign goals, and do a lot of interaction with decision-makers and stakeholders like NGOs, academe, Church, and even the private sector.
[My schedule] varies from day-to-day. It depends on where I am and the activities for that day, it is not fixed. I also do a lot of communications via email. There can also be interviews and meetings with key leaders.
What’s the best and worst parts about your job?
The best is learning so much from various campaigners and leaders from various parts of the world, including our Philippines team and network.
The worst part is overcoming the jet lag when I travel to other countries. For the foreign travel, I try to avoid caffeine and to hydrate myself.
It is also a built-in factor that not many in government appreciate what we do. There is possible security threat and their impacts on our team. For the negative reaction from decision-makers, we discuss about strategies within the team a lot, and that helps forge unity from within.
What can people do to help your cause?
They can help raise the voice for government to do concrete measures to stop illegal fishing and mainstream tracking devices for all commercial fishing vessels, and sign on to the petition to the President to declare Benham Bank as a protected area.
What 3 pointers would you provide for people who'd like to start seriously pursuing an environmental lifestyle?
Walk the talk in all that you do and your choices.
Know and assert your rights and perform your duties, as a person/citizen.
Use your talent to promote ecological stewardship.
Fun fact about a species that you think people should know.
We can learn a lot from imbibing the sterling patience of a spider in building the web and in casting the “enemy” into it.
What is your why - why you do what you do?
I believe that our cumulative efforts can make a big difference in creating a more safe and sustainable tomorrow, especially to the voiceless, including Mother Nature and the marginalized sectors. We are a product of our many experiences, and I’ve seen the injustice up close especially among people who do not even know they have rights.
I do believe that the Law is a great equalizer when it comes to protecting environmental rights. Our magnificent legal framework including the trail-blazing Oposa doctrine, is one big factor that can change behaviors of our policy makers, especially those who are in a dire state of apathy and gross neglect of their duties, but it requires courageous defenders who do not blink to make such changes a reality.
What lifestyle changes have you made for the environment?
I gave up driving and using a car for my daily use. It was hard initially, but it was a very sound decision and I feel good about it.
What convinced you to make these changes?
I dread having a fossil fuel literally poured into the gas tank everyday or several times a week. It was a continuing challenge for me to reduce the biggest source of my carbon footprint. I did it – for over ten years now.
If you weren’t doing what you were doing, what would you do/pursue?
I would have been into investigative reporting.
What is the meaning of life?
“Life” has so much meaning to many people – but I do believe that we are born to live a life of purpose and to be grateful for the blessings and gift of life.
What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
Just be yourself and be proud of your uniqueness and who you are. Find your passion.
Who inspires you?
My father, Papa Nono, and my mother, Mama Coring. They shun material riches and left to their children the core values of honesty, simplicity, and integrity, which we try hard to imbibe and leave the same as living values to our children.
What is a philosophy or words you live by?
“Give me liberty or give me death” (I value my freedom since birth.)
What makes an ideal leader?
Principled and fearless and taking on the responsibility especially in the most critical of times.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Ice cream, anytime!
Tañon Strait, one of Oceana's project sites
Photos provided by Oceana Philippines