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FOREST HEROINE: Grizelda “Gerthie” Mayo-Anda puts law to work in defense of forests

Protecting the rights of indigenous peoples in Palawan.
Grizelda “Gerthie” Mayo-Anda has been consistent in her advocacy and fearless in her quest to protect the environment and empower marginalized communities.

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Editor’s Note: International Women’s Day is Saturday, 8 March, and in honor of women’s many contributions to forestry, Forests News is publishing stories from readers about their “forest heroines” — women who have devoted their lives to make a difference for the world’s forests and the people who live in them. Throughout the week, we will be sharing these women’s stories. In this one, guest blogger Crissy Guerrero writes about her forest heroine, Grizelda “Gerthie” Mayo-Anda.

After her father — a well-respected prosecutor — was shot on the steps of the justice hall in Puerto Princesa, the capital of the northern Philippines province of Palawan, Gerthie made it her business to extend justice to more people.

She earned a law degree, then turned her focus toward environmental and social justice in Palawan, a heavily forested archipelago designated a U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) biosphere reserve in 1990.

She worked to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, building her own environmental defense unit called the Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC), where she is now executive director.

Gerthie’s energetic spirit and commitment galvanized many communities to protect forests, both upland and coastal, through the creation of citizen watchdogs, forest guardians and multisectoral advocacy networks.

They stopped mining in almost 200,000 hectares of forest in Palawan; secured the passage of village and municipal watershed ordinances; and supported the establishment of mangrove sanctuaries to the cessation of mining activities in forest areas.

When a coal power plant was proposed in a southern municipality, home to precious birds and local people, Mayo-Anda and her colleagues worked to stop it.  The project has been moved to another municipality, where advocacy efforts against it are ongoing.

The mayor of Puerto Princesa and international travel magazine Conde Nast Traveller honored her with environmental awards in 1998 and 2000, respectively. Soon after, “Bandillo ng Palawan,” Palawan’s environmental newspaper, honored her with the Palawena of the Year award for her efforts to protect Palawan’s natural resources.

There is probably not a single town in mainland Palawan that has not been touched by Gerthie’s hard work. She has displayed a great deal of courage and determination amid the pressures and difficulties of winning legal battles and advocating for the protection of the environment and communities.

Mayo-Anda, as founder of ELAC, has personified the organization’s motto as “helping communities defend the earth.” Her optimism is contagious, and her persuasive style in negotiating her position on any given topic is unmatched.

She has joined multi-stakeholder initiatives, boards and contributed to radio programs in her aim to protect the last frontier of the Philippines from wanton destruction. As well, Mayo-Anda has also taken up the cause of women and gender issues.

Although large-scale natural resource extraction and agro-industrial development are changing the landscape of the province, the pace of change could have become stronger, faster and uglier without her.

As an environmental lawyer, Mayo-Anda has been consistent in her advocacy and fearless in her quest to protect the environment and empower marginalized communities.

Crissy Guerrero is executive director of the Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Programme for South and Southeast Asia (NTFP-EP). The views expressed above are those of the author and not the Center for International Forestry Research. 

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