Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dr. Jose Rizal cited for his work on community health and environment

In the lead up to the 150th birth anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal on Sunday, June 19, environmentalists paid tribute to the national hero, citing his intimate love and concern for people and nature.

In a statement, the EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental network of over 125 public interest groups, honored Rizal for his many but often unproclaimed contributions to community health and the environment.

“We pay homage to our national hero Jose Rizal for his keen devotion to improving community health and environment long before the Constitution formally committed to promoting and protecting the health and environmental rights of the people,” said Roy Alvarez, president of EcoWaste Coalition.

The present Constitution of the Philippines declares the pursuit of the people’s “right to health” and the “right to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature” as state policies.

“We can find in Rizal the qualities and skills of an authentic Filipino who treasures our natural patrimony and uses the earth’s resources for the health and well-being of the people,” Alvarez emphasized.

As "the greatest product of the Philippines," in the words of his best friend Prof. Ferdinand Blumentritt, Rizal, an animal and plant lover, also excelled in many fields of environmental work, including as an agriculturist, botanist, conchologist, horticulturist, ichthyologist, sanitary engineer and zoologist.

The EcoWaste Coalition specifically pointed to Rizal’s vibrant life as a political exile from 1892 to 1896 in the town of Dapitan, now a thriving city with scenic beaches and hills in the province of Zamboanga del Norte.

As an environmental health and rural reconstruction champion of his era, Rizal carried out community projects in Dapitan that afforded the people with tangible health, sanitation and ecological benefits, the EcoWaste Coalition said.

Among these projects were the aqueduct that Rizal engineered from a mountain stream that gave people of Dapitan access to clean water, the draining of swamps to control the breeding of malaria mosquitoes, the provision of street lighting system using coconut oil lamps, and the beautification of the town plaza.

Like today's herbalists, Rizal, who was also a physician specializing on eye diseases, studied locally-grown medicinal plants and have these prescribed to his poor patients to alleviate their health problems, the group noted.

An avid naturalist, or a person who studies “natural history,” Rizal collected samples of animals and plants from the forest and seashores, including an amazing collection of 346 shells consisting of 203 species, 38 new varieties of fish and some rare specimens that have been named after him such as the Apogonia rizali (a beetle), Draco rizali (a flying dragon) and Rhacophorus rizali (a frog).

Also, as a farmer, he planted and cared for hundreds of trees in Dapitan, including a very old dao tree that is still standing in the city, a living testament of Rizal’s passion for nature, the EcoWaste Coalition observed.

“As we mark his 150th birthday, we join our historians in inviting the entire nation, especially the youth, to rediscover and celebrate Rizal, particularly his unheralded service to the environment,” Alvarez stated.

The National Historical Commission of the Philippines, the government agency in charge of leading the 150th observance of Rizal’s birthday, has set “Rizal: Haligi ng Bayan” as the theme for the celebration.


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