Keeping Activism Alive

Orly Mercado

Posted on June 23, 2009

It was a clear sunny morning here in Jakarta. I was on my way to the office, when I received a text message from Manila. Julius Fortuna, a fellow journalist died of a heart attack. Way back in the sixties, we were dyed-in-wool Marxists student leaders. In the 70s we were detained as subversives by the Marcos regime. We could not have known then, that socialism was “the long road from capitalism to capitalism”. I will always remember Julius as an activist. Even as we aged, he always had causes to fight for. I do not have any regrets about that period of my life. It is about the passion that comes with activism that sometimes makes me wonder. How long can one keep it?

Later in the day, I had lunch with Von Hernandez, another activist. As Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia he is a poster boy for environmental activism in the region. Von belongs to another generation of activists. He started out as an environmentalist as a member of my staff. As a senator, I had taken up the issue of environmental protection by pushing for a total ban on logging in the Philippines. It was a tough fight. He reminded me that when I was calling for a log ban, we were fighting to save 18% of the country’s remaining first growth forests. He said that now there is only 3% left.

We talked about forest destruction, climate change and palm oil expansion, here in Indonesia. A staggering 72% of Indonesia’s intact forest landscapes have either disappeared or been severely degraded due to decades of industrial and illegal logging. Indonesia is currently losing its forests faster than any other major forested country. I agreed with him that it is imperative to stop deforestation globally, at the same time requiring industrialized countries to purchase a portion of their Kyoto emission permits to generate funds to halt deforestation. This would require regional action. I knew where the conversation was going. I was getting animated. Even as my comrade-in-arms during the sixties are now “buying the farm” it is not difficult to keep activism alive. I can already feel my adrenalin pains.

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