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Farewell, Abyan Awè 1st of two parts

It was a sad Monday for conservation community in Negros Occidental last week, September 21, when the pioneer Provincial Environment Management Officer of the province, Edwin Abanil, 64, passed away. However, his family and friends are consoled to think that Edwin, a lawyer by profession, peacefully went to rest after weeks at the Intensive Care Unit in one of the hospitals in Bacolod City.

Edwin, Awè to his family, relatives, and close friends, had gone before us, but his enormous contribution in the field of environmental protection and natural resources conservation in Negros Occidental will always remain, and nobody can dispute that.

There was no point in time that we officially worked together in one office. Our paths crossed because of our common resolve for the sake of the environment. We became more than just colleagues in conservation with similar vision, but we came to know each other as friends, and through the years, that friendship remained, although we barely saw each other after he retired from government service.

We shared happiness in little successes of our environmental campaigns, and similarly the frustrations on some obstacles and challenges we encountered.

Before his stint as the first PEMO of Negros Occidental, Awè was very active in civil society movement in Negros Occidental, and had gained a good network in both government and nongovernment organizations. According to Lucille Titular, one of Edwin's friends in civil society, Awè was one of the prime movers in the formation of the Multi-Sectoral Alliance for Development–Negros, and actively campaigned for NGOs participation in local development planning and governance.

When former Governor Rafael Coscolluela recruited Awè to become part of his core team at the Capitol, it was then our opportunity to work together on various concerns. After the passage of the Local Government Code, Gov. Lito immediately wanted to take on the devolved functions of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to the provincial government. I was then working in the public affairs of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office, and I, together with Rowena Parcon, one of the DENR personnel covered with the devolution, was tasked by the late PENR officer, Larry Cayayan, to work with the provincial government for the transition. It was then that Awè and I started to partner on several assignments.

Under the direct supervision of Gov. Lito and Cayayan, it was painstaking efforts of discussions, meetings, researches, coordination, and writings to finally establish the first provincial environment office in the Philippines in 1993, and Awè was appointed as the first PEM officer. As we progressed in developing the priority thrusts of PEMO, Gov. Lito conceptualized and declared the “Environment War” in Negros Occidental, and I, for one, could say that the workforce beyond the implementation of the declaration was Awè, including pushing for the issuance of a provincial ordinance commemorating the last week of June as Environment Week in Negros Occidental.

Awè was a workaholic person and he wanted the tasks at hand to be immediately done in precise and quality forms. He did not succumb to the pressures and demands of his new assignment, especially so that Gov. Lito, at that time, bannered the environment as his priority agenda. When forest protection was quite a tough concern in Negros Occidental, Awè presented to the governor the idea of organizing a multi-sectoral forest protection task force. Awè asked me what would be the name of the group, and I suggested “Task Force Ilahas”. From just a task force, it became “Balik Ilahas Program” that made its way to the coveted Galing Pook Awards in 1998, and Awè was at the background taking the lead in making forest protection and expanding it to forest restoration possible.

The legal issues he encountered while in PEMO, in fact, were among the motivations why Awè proceeded and hurdled his education in law. (To be continued)*

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