Friday, June 08, 2012

Bayani kamo ang hinahanap mo?

BAES, Aloysius U.
Source: Bantayog ng mga Bayani

Immortality comes in two ways for Aloysius ‘Ochie’ Baes, an eminent scientist who led a heroic life by casting his lot with the poor, the downtrodden and the oppressed. First, future scientists will surely oft quote his detailed and competent scientific work, especially those that deal with toxic wastes and environmental safeguards; and second, the songs that he composed during his years in prison will certainly be sung by generations yet to come.

Ochie’s family had a passion for music. was born to a family of in Los Banos, Laguna to a family where music was a daily fare. His father was a tenor and a band leader who instilled in him a passion for music while his mother sang and played the organ at the local parish church. Ochie learned how to play the piano, the flute, the guitar, the clarinet and other horn instruments. The family was so deep into music that apart from Ochie, a younger sibling, Jonas, would soon become a renowned faculty member at the College of Music in UP Diliman.

A different kind of music, however, stirred inside Ochie that like a siren song totally captivated his imagination and entire being. It was, after all, the sixties in the Age of Aquarius, civil rights, Student Power, and the Vietnam War. As early as in his fourth year in high school, Ochie would lead a one-day protest against an oppressive teacher.

But it was only a prelude to bigger things. College at UP Los Baños would see him in full bloom. In 1967, he became one of the founders of the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK) UPLB Chapter. The next year, Ochie would run and win as the Chairman of the University Student Council. Under Ochie’s leadership, the student council organized a regular Friday book review where students would discuss and debate progressive ideas among themselves. Simultaneously, the student council also undertook Learning from the People Summer Work Camps where the student-participants stayed in selected rural communities and integrated with the rural folks in their daily routines. These programs raised the level of awareness and consciousness of many UPLB students on the need for Philippine society to undergo radical changes. Soon, more and more students responded and were promptly primed for action. In protest of an oil price increase in 1970, a successful two-week boycott of UPLB classes soon followed and was capped by a barricade on the national highway that led to the UPLB entrance.

The barricade was a success because Ochie’s leadership went beyond the confines of the State University. Years earlier, Ochie led the establishment of SDK chapters among the youth in the immediate vicinities of UPLB. This was not the climax, however, of Ochie’s student leadership. The following year when then President Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus, Ochie led a long protest march from UPLB to Manila under the glaring heat of the summer sun. It was a tough, gritty march that would presage the epic Lakbayans of later decades.

All throughout this intense period when Ochie wore several hats—as a tireless organization man, a helpful comrade and guru, and crush ng bayan he never forsook his studies. Though Ochie graduated as a cum laude in 1969, contemporaries would relate that had he not incur the ire of the Dean, he would have graduated with higher honors as a magna cum laude. Ochie then promptly joined the ranks of the UPLB faculty as a Chemistry instructor.

When Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, Ochie was among the personalities that the military targeted for immediate arrest. Left with no choice, Ochie, along with thousands of students situated similarly, worked full-time in the underground resistance. Ochie immersed himself in organizing the farmers in Laguna until he was arrested the following year. Detained at first at Camp Crame then to Ipil and finally to Bicutan, it was during this period of incarceration that Ochie composed the songs Huwad na Kalayaan, Mutya, Kay Taas ng Pader, among other songs still sung today among progressive circles. All the while Ochie and his friends were turning prison into a music factory of sorts; friends would relate that Ochie never forgot to send messages of affection to his family, especially to his mother.

He was released from detention in 1974 and resumed his teaching duties as a Chemistry instructor this time in UP Diliman. Despite the hectic demands of his teaching duties, Ochie continued his work in the underground by organizing and educating activists to fight the Marcos dictatorship. In 1982, he left the country to pursue his graduate studies at the University of Minnesota. While in the United States, Ochie got actively involved in the solidarity movement of US-based Filipinos who, despite the great distance, supported the struggles in the home front. Friends at the Alliance for a Just and Lasting Peace-USA would testify that Ochie’s expertise in organizational work proved invaluable in helping the organization map out tactics and strategies in its various campaigns.

After completing his doctorate degree with distinction, Ochie went to Japan in 1988 to teach in a university. This sojourn, however, was to be a very brief one. Being so near to his native homeland, Ochie could not resist coming back home and sharing his intelligence and talents to his own compatriots. So the following year, Ochie went back to the country to resume his teaching career at UPLB.

Among the first things that Ochie did after settling down a bit was to gather kindred scientists and form the Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines (CEC-Phil.). He was also instrumental in the founding of AGHAM, an organization of nationalist and pro-people scientists. Colleagues in these two organizations would relate that Ochie proved once again to be a key figure in clarifying what role scientists need to play in environmental advocacy in view of the hardships and struggles of the Filipino people. Oftentimes, it was Ochie who provided the clear-cut framework for a truly effective, pro-people science and technology movement. Many environmental groups and network are eternally grateful to Ochie for helping them spell out their vision, mission and goals in their environmental work.

Ochie’s brilliance is best summarized by a colleague in this manner: imagine a Filipino who went to Japan to teach Toyota how to make cars. Ochie did something similar when he conducted classes in water, wastewater and air quality monitoring to graduate students of Hiroshima and Kinki University in Japan. “Ochie did the country proud by being recognized as the expert in Japan on matters that Japan does best, like pollution control,” wrote this colleague.

Ochie, however, would reserve his brilliance to serve his country best. During the period 1989-2003 when Ochie served as the Managing Director of CEC-Phil., he tirelessly demonstrated what his pro-people framework consisted of and how does one put it into the concrete. In 1990, Ochie conducted joint researches with his students and exposed the adverse environmental and health effects of the coal-fired power plant in Calaca, Batangas. Around this period also, Ochie became one of the brains behind the national campaign against the toxic wastes of the US military in the Subic and Clark bases. He initiated toxicity pathway researches that linked the rising incidence of cancers among the people in the local communities to the lingering presence of toxic contaminants, such as fuel and armaments, in effect demonstrating the culpability of the US military.

In 2003, Ochie also initiated a series of field visits and community education to the direct impact areas of Marcopper and Placer Dome mining operations in the province-island of Marinduque. These field studies encouraged the people and the local government officials to pursue their campaign for environmental justice, rehabilitation and mining moratorium in the island.

When the Ormoc tragedy happened in 2004, Ochie correctly predicted that other landslide disasters are bound to happen and called upon the government to henceforth immediately identify critical areas and prepare such areas to impending disasters. Colleagues and other experts all agree that had the government listened to such pleas, the subsequent tragedies in Quezon, Aurora, St. Bernard in Leyte and other regions would have been less disastrous had Ochie’s recommendations been put into operation.

He thereafter worked as a member of the Rapu-Rapu Fact-Finding Commission that scrutinized the controversial Lafayette polymetallic flagship mining project of the Arroyo administration. Despite failing health, Ochie worked tirelessly once more in studying the mine tailing incidents, exposing the adverse consequences and flaws of the entire project, and subsequently recommend its termination.

Colleagues who worked with Ochie at this time already noticed his failing health. One time, they noticed that Ochie was having difficulty in breathing while ascending the stairs to a conference room. Ochie never complained, though, and would use his sense of humor to lighten up everybody. At that time, Ochie already had developed an enlarged heart and was already experiencing its complications.

In retrospect, a colleague had this to say about Ochie’s condition: Because he shirked no tasks however burdensome and whatever the toll on his own health, he never complained. He never took a vacation from being so kind to everyone around even in the heat of righteous anger. He developed an enlarged heart because truly that heart of Ochie was already so large in the first place.

Ochie quietly died on December 21, 2006 due to complications arising from kidney failure at the National Kidney Institute. With his passing, the country may have lost a dedicated, uncomplaining son who gave all his time, energies and talents in its service but have definitely added in the pantheon of its heroes another immortal Filipino worthy of emulation and respect for all times.

Related Articles:
Aloysius “Ochie” Baes, People's Scientist, December 18, 2008,
Dr. Aloysius Baes: Scientist, Composer and Revolutionary Par Excellence, February 2007, Lisa Ito,
For Ochie Baes, January 2007, Mon Ramirez
NDF pays tribute to UPLB chemist and environmentalist, December 26, 2006, Manila Bulletin

Birth: July 28, 1948
Place of Birth: Los Baños, Laguna
Death: December 21, 2006
Place of Death: Quezon City
Related Works:

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