Eleventh Hour: Delikado, Jose Rizal, and the environment

By Roxanne Omega Doron


While watching an environmental documentary entitled “Delikado” on the lived realities of forest rangers in Palawan province, I pondered: What if Dr. Jose Rizal was one of us today? Will he be a champion of environmental protection? Will he be executed as an environmentalist as well?


Dr. Jose Rizal, one of our national heroes, was killed for speaking up precisely on his desire to free the Philippines from the scourge of Spanish colonialism. He inspired the people to rise and revolt against the established order and the people in power during his time. And on the 30th of December 1896, he was executed by the clerico-fascists for wanting to institute reforms.

“Delikado,” on the other hand, is a powerful documentary dedicated to raising awareness on the most pressing issue humankind should face head-on: environmental degradation. It touches on the heroism of local people, most notably the forest rangers, who are trying to protect the environment and maintain ecological balance. But powerful people deeply entrenched in the social order executed several forest rangers, one of which was a local village chief in Palawan. The film showed us the way and opened our eyes to the country’s environmental issues and the urgent need to protect our environmental defenders.

Dr. Jose Rizal was actually a “forest ranger” during his time. His concern for the environment was well established especially when he was exiled in Dapitan for turning the town green and beautifying their town plaza. Some of the many community health and environmental management projects he instituted were planting numerous trees, providing people with clean water through the construction of aqueducts, and building fish pens.

Due to his undying commitment to freedom, Dr. Jose Rizal was forced into exile in Dapitan. There, he pioneered several environmental measures, public health advocacy, and agricultural sustainability for and because of his love for the people and the natural environment.

Dr. Jose Rizal was always ahead of his time. As a sanitary engineer, environmental planner, and public health champion, he was responsible for the construction of a mountain stream that provided the community in Dapitan with clean access to water. Even the breeding ground of mosquitos was not sparred: he drained the swamps. He used as well coconut oil lamps for his street lighting and to keep the people safe and well-guided during nighttime.

Following the footsteps of our pre-colonial spiritual healers (often referred to as the Babaylan) who took advantage of the abundance of herbs in our communities, Dr. Jose Rizal was a herbalist as well. He documented and studied locally-grown medicinal plants and use them to heal his patients. He was indeed a public and community health champion and took great pride in what our environment has to offer to help solve some medical and health challenges of our people.

A naturalist, Dr. Jose Rizal observed, collected, and studied various plants and animal samples within his environment—be it in the middle of the forest or even in the seashores. He has a collection of various shells which consists of 203 species and documented 38 varieties of fish. To honor his endless contribution to natural history, rare specimens have been named after him, such as a beetle (scientific name Apogonia rizali), a flying dragon (scientific name Draco rizali), and a frog (scientific name Rhacophorous rizali).

Even if Dr. Jose Rizal’s childhood was privileged, he always took note of the important contribution of farmers and farming. He was into farming as well. He nurtured hundreds of trees in Dapitan and one living example is the century-old dao tree that is still standing today in the beautiful town he cared for and nurtured while in exile.

Dr. Jose Rizal was everything when it comes to loving, caring for the environment, and protecting our national patrimony. He was even referred to as everything a human should be to protect the environment: sanitary engineer, agriculturist, zoologist, animal and plant lover, community health champion, and many more.  

Just like his selfless devotion to environmental protection, the dedication of forest rangers featured in the film “Delikado” has made unparalleled contributions to community health, environmental management, and sustainability.

Just like Dr. Jose Rizal, our forest rangers are farmers, herbalists, and community health champions. They know the importance of taking care of the environment and ensuring a sustainable future for the next generation. They are worthy of being emulated.



Roxanne Omega Doron is a Pinoy Climate Reality Leader and is teaching a course on Rizal at the University of the Philippines Cebu. He is planning to give a special lecture on Dr. Jose Rizal and his contribution to environmental protection.


This article was originally published on The Climate Reality Project Philippines’ weekly column for the Manila Bulletin called Eleventh Hour.

This column serves a digital space to discuss our organization’s work on supporting the country’s just transition into a clean, affordable, and self-sufficient energy system; advancing sustainable urban mobility to highlight the issues of equity and democracy; and raising public awareness about the need to phase out single-use plastics. It also serves as a platform for Pinoy Climate Reality Leaders to share your stories, promote your climate initiatives, and provide critical insights to issues that matter to climate action, environmental protection, and sustainable development.