“God wants you to act on what’s in front of you; one tree at a time, one beach at a time, one politician at a time.” These are the words of Atty. Robert Chan, an environmental defender whose faith is his constant source of strength.
Robert Chan is an environmental lawyer who leads the rag-tag squad of “para-enforcers” under the Palawan NGO Network Inc. (PNNI) in enforcing conservation laws often ignored by police and coastguard authorities in Palawan, the country’s last ecological frontier. He is known for being the “chainsaw man” of Palawan, having confiscated more than 700 chainsaws, along with several dynamite fishing boats and mining equipment.
Atty. Chan has spearheaded numerous arrests of illegal loggers, miners and poachers with no guns – just stealth, conviction, and a little-known citizens’ arrest law on hand. Although their method has come to be an effective and well-renowned tactic, these daring actions come at the price of sacrifice. Ten of their honorable para-enforcers were murdered in the past ten years. He also receives death threats and red-tagging constantly, limiting his movements. Moreover, their projects often experience lack of funding, because their actions are deemed as too “confrontational” for potential donors.
He is also one of the leading voices in Palawan in three political moves: against the removal of five protected areas in the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System, against agreement that allows the entry of infrastructure in protected areas; and against the division of Palawan into three provinces.
Atty. Chan and the PNNI are known to operate across the entire island of Palawan, where there are over 1.28 million hectares of protected landscapes and seascapes that serve as habitats to unique, rare, and endangered flora and fauna. Their efforts contribute to the preservation of Palawan’s unparalleled biodiversity, watersheds, natural resource production, and even tourism.
Recognizing that the pressures on Palawan’s environment will never be resolved unless systemic poverty and corruption is addressed in the country, Atty. Chan does not shy away from going up against powerful political interests from big business and government despite of all the threats and red-tagging thrown to him. With boundless energy, refreshing candor, and faith in action, Atty. Chan continues to be a source of inspiration to the people of Palawan and arguably the entire nation.