The Joy and Journey of Jun (Factoran)
In March 1990, 43 Filipino children – acting on their own behalf and on behalf of generations yet unborn — wrote a letter to then-DENR Secretary Fulgencio (Jun) Factoran. The kids demanded that the DENR cancel all logging concessions in the Philippines within 15 days. They claimed that at the rate the remaining old-growth forests were being cut down and wiped out, in ten years, there will be nothing left for them and for future generations.
The demand letter was not only outrageous and audacious. It was completely ridiculous.
One afternoon a few days later, the phone rings. The lady said that DENR Secretary Factoran wanted to talk to me. I almost fell off my chair. Here comes a scolding, or so I thought.
Before he became DENR Secretary, Jun Factoran was a well-known human rights lawyer. He was an honor graduate of the UP College of Law and held a Master of Laws from the Harvard Law School. But more that, he had the guts to stand up to the powers that were.
Expecting a scolding for demanding the impossible, expecting a tongue-lashing and a long legal lecture, instead Jun Factoran said, “OK yan, pare!” 1 He went on to explain why he thought it was OK. He fully understood that the case was not a lawsuit, it was a story. A brilliant lawyer that he was, he saw how it can be a lever to do something bigger. He long wanted to stop the plunder of Philippine forests, but was under pressure by the petty plays of power politics.
Three words, three short words – “OK yan, pare”. That made all the difference.
With the candle of courage lighted by three simple words, we filed the case in the trial court. He was a defendant only in his capacity as DENR Secretary, as required by the rules of court. But it was never the case of Oposa versus Factoran. It was always Oposa with Factoran. After the filing and to emphasize that this was not against the person, we even invited DENR top executives for coffee.2 The plans were thus well laid-out for a happy story-telling exercise in a court of law. It promised to be a good venue for enlightened discussion, and an avenue for determined action.
But goofy government being what it is, the Office of the Solicitor General had a different mind. Instead of proceeding to the trial of story-telling, the Solicitor General, as official counsel of the Philippine Government, filed a motion to dismiss. This was a “technicality” that had good legal grounds:
First, it is basic that the State cannot be sued.
Second, it is also basic that children — acting on their own and on the crazy claim of acting for future generations – had no legal personality in a Court of Law.
Storytelling in Court
Of course, I am supposed to know that. This is pretty basic in the Rules of Court taught in law school. Or maybe I was absent when that was taught, or was not paying attention to the lesson. But then to me, this was not a legal case. It was an attempt to tell a simple story. It was an effort to send a message to the moment, and a cry for help against the rampant rape of the Philippine forests. Yes, it was simple message that says : Every generation has a duty to future generations.
Why does this story have to be told in a Court of Law? Well, if we screamed about it in a plaza, who will listen? We might even get arrested for disorderly conduct. In media? If at all it will be aired, the message may be heard … for 15 seconds.
But in a court of law, we can tell a proper story without shouting at each other. In a court of law, we can put the issues on the table for orderly discussion, backed by evidence. In a court of law, those who wish to take good action will have the shield of legal authority. And in a court of law — sooner or later, one way or another, win or lose – there will be a resolution. And the storytelling will have an ending.
I was terribly disappointed by this snag in legal mumbo-jumbo. I was all alone with no moral or logistical support. Instead, I was the object of ridicule by some mainstream lawyers. They thought me weird for spending so much time defending the trees and the fish who cannot pay attorney’s fees. Also, I had a very young family to feed and had absolutely no money. An excellent recipe for career disaster.
In a personal note I sent to him by fax, I confided my misgiving to Secretary Jun Factoran. But his hands were tied by Government rules. As DENR Secretary he cannot contradict the official government lawyer – the Solicitor General. In sum, I was stuck!
And so, after more than a year of legal wrangling in the trial court, the case was dismissed … outright! Boom!
Genius of Team Factoran
But the native genius of the heart of Jun Factoran went into over-drive. He used the case as a lever to do something for which the country will be grateful forever. By the stroke of his pen, Jun Factoran banned logging in the remaining 800,000 hectares of the country’s old-growth rain forests. These Philippine forests — compared to the Galapagos Islands of Charles Darwin’s fame – is much richer … multiplied ten-times over!3
Jun Factoran also had a genius for selecting excellent co-workers. He created a team of super-heroes – Victor Ramos, Bebet Gozun, May Gonzales, Rolly Metin, Yoyong Magdaraog, Ebert Bautista, Romy San Juan, Celso Roque, Delfin Ganapin (Sr. and Jr.), Tony Tria, Rene de Rueda, et al.4 Together they made momentous moves that changed the game from plunder to protection:
- Logging was banned in the remaining old-growth forests of the Philippines (DAO 24, 1991). By law, these forests became the initial component of the …
- National Protected Areas (Republic Act 7586). This landmark piece of legislation, another one of Jun Factoran’s legacy — was approved on his last month as DENR Secretary (June 1992).
- The mind-shift was further nudged by the novel contract reforestation program that Jun Factoran and his team launched during their time. It turned the tide in our treatment of trees — from careless cutting to a new world of careful caring.
- It also marked the shift from big time logging to community-based forest conservation, protection and restoration.
If that’s not impressive enough, consider this: Four of the people who worked with Jun Factoran later themselves became DENR Secretaries – Victor Ramos, Bebet Gozun, Horace Ramos, and Mon Paje.
Kuya Jun and I crossed paths in the years in between. I was with him especially during the difficult moments when he took care of Ate Kaye, a fellow Bisaya. Kuya Jun loved Kaye with a ‘love that was more than love’.
In April 2018, almost 30 years after the case was filed, we got together for lunch. I gave him a copy of my book and pointed to the importance of his role in caring for the Philippine forests. Reflecting on yesterday and today, we saw how what then seemed impossible – a total logging ban — had now become inevitable. We also mused at how our simple story was now being retold in a few corners of the world. “Minors Oposa with Factoran.”
Today, this 50th Earth Day, let us celebrate the life and legacy of Jun Factoran with a song. Please download and listen. Then please say the words aloud, and if you wish, sing along. Don’t be shy. No one is listening. But please sing with your heart. It is a soft song, a silent prayer, and a wonder whisper to the wind.
Also sharing with you this little picture-book “Shooting Stars and Dancing Fish: A Walk to the World We Want.” You will see Jun Factoran’s name on pages 60-61.
“Dance as if no one is watching, Love as if you’ve never been hurt. And sing as if no one is listening.”
Thank you, Kuya Jun, 5
For your Life, Love, and Light.
“Yesterdays are but dreams
And tomorrows are but visions.
But a today well-lived makes every yesterday
A happy dream,
And every tomorrow
A vision of hope.”
Kuya Jun, you lived a life
Sprinkled with moments of magic.
You lived a life that makes our yesterday
A happy dream,
And our tomorrow
A vision of hope.
22 April 2020, 50th Earth Day
1 “That’s OK, brother.”
2 Romy San Juan, Asst. Secretary for Legal, and Ric Serrano (+), Director for Public Affairs.
3 Heany and Regalado, Vanishing Treasures of the Philippine Forests s
4 Also directors and executive officers like Nards Paat, Boy Montejo, Mon Paje, Horace Ramos, Peachy Gonzales, Jerry
Dolino, Willy Pollisco, et al.
5 Kuya – a Filipino word of endearment used to call, or refer to, an elder brother.