Jesus Nicanor Nick Perlas
Jesus Nicanor "Nick" Perlas

Saying none of the presidential wannabes stands for “real change,” environmental activist Nicanor “Nick” Perlas has stepped forward to make his bid for the highest post in the land in 2010.

Perlas, who has a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degree from Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro, announced his plan to run for president at a gathering of environmentalists, academicians and civil society personalities at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Library conference room in Quezon City yesterday.

Perlas, who had declined an appointment as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 2002 due to his disapproval of the actions and policies of President Arroyo and many of her officials, said he arrived at the decision with some reluctance after much prodding from friends in civil society.

“I was hoping and have been long waiting for somebody to step forward who really stands for change,” Perlas told reporters.

“Somebody has to step up there, somebody that can give the people who want change a real choice,” Perlas said.

Nicanor Reyes being interviewed after his announcement to run for president in 2010
Nicanor Reyes being interviewed after his announcement to run for president in 2010

Nicanor Perlas was born in 1950, and graduated with highest honours in agriculture from Xavier University. He gave up his master’s degree after being drawn into the struggle against the Marcos-promoted Baataan nuclear plant in 1978 and had to leave the Philippines after organising a conference to expose its dangers.

After the fall of Marcos Perlas was able to return to the Philippines, founding the Centre for Alternative Development Initiatives (CADI).

He became a consultant to the Aquino Government on the troubled nuclear power plant, and contributed to the decision to mothball it, despite it being very near completion, and having cost $2.1 billion.

At the same time he engaged in a campaign against the abuse of pesticides, founding the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. This (and very often Perlas personally) gave training and technical assistance in 23 provinces in the Philippines. Perlas also became a member of the government’s Pesticides Technical Advisory Committee, which eventually banned 32 of the most damaging pesticides and caused the government to invest P760 million in integrated pest management, which trained more than 100,000 farmers. For this work Perlas won the Global 500 Award from UNEP, and one of the TOFIL Awards to outstanding Filipinos, both in 1994. In the substantial press coverage that accompanied these awards, Perlas was often referred to as ‘a farmer’ and his work with CADI still helps farmers to shift away from chemical-intensive agriculture.

By this time Perlas was already one of the Philippines’ environmental leaders. He had set up student environmental groups and his work on nuclear power and sustainable agriculture had given him a national profile. He was one of the Philippines’ NGO delegation to the 1992 Earth Summit. He later became heavily involved in the post-Rio process in the Philippines, not least through the Philippine Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), of which he has been Civil Society Co-Chair, and helped to formulate and implement at the local level Philippine Agenda 21 (PA21). Later in the 1990s he became Co-Chair of the Green Forum of environmental groups, and he has been a member of Mikael Gorbachov’s Commission on Globalisation.

Perlas explicitly sought to use PA21 as a counter-weight to the trade liberalisation that was being pushed through the Uruguay Road of the GATT, in what he described as a “creative response to the challenge of élite globalisation.” A major practical expression of the PA21 approach is the micro-credit initiative Lifebank, of which Perlas is a Board member. Lifebank has so far reached 15,000 families.

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