November 29, 2010. It was the last day of the Rainbow Warrior’s Turn the Tide Tour of Southeast Asia. I was tasked to organize a memorial for a little girl who had died on the Rainbow Warrior ten years ago during the first trip of our iconic campaign boat to the region for the Toxics-Free Asia Tour.
The little girl was Crizel Jane Valencia. She was afflicted with leukemia due to exposure from toxic wastes (some heavy metals and Polychlorinated Biphenyls or PCBs) in a former US military base. Their family had come to live for temporary resettlement at the Clark Air Base following the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, which had also driven the Americans away.
While I was not there the day she died (25 February 2000), in my book this remains the most touching story in my entire Greenpeace life. It is a story recounted over and over again by Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike.
The memorial was an intimate solemn sunset ceremony. Some tears were shed as people recalled the day that Crizel, terminally ill at 6 years of age, left her family to become a happy little angel now free of the physical pain that she had been going through.
I learned that it was Hettie the Chief Mate’s first voyage with Greenpeace. Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner Danny, a volunteer 10 years ago, spoke of taking a ride on the Rainbow Warrior’s RHIB (rigid hull inflatable boat) with Crizel, Mehdi (outboard mechanic), Butch Turk (Ship’s nurse), and Captain Pete Wilcox. Butch, who is now back in the US, sent some songs about Crizel written by his friends, and a letter which I read out.
We gathered inside the Rainbow Warrior’s bridge with lighted candles for a minute of silence for Crizel and for all the victims of environmental destruction. The minute of silence ended with the quiet peal of the ship’s bell.
One by one, we threw white orchids into the sea in a ceremony that paid homage to struggle of one little girl – an innocent victim of toxic pollution.
There is a point where the sea meets the sky and hopefully Crizel will be there to receive the flowers and the prayers.
Although the night was filled with stories of Crizel, it was also a time to take stock of what had happened since then that could have had a bearing on Crizel’s life, had governments acted solutions much earlier. Ten years after Greenpeace first exposed the issue of PCB transformers in the former US base, a solution is now on the way – a non-combustion facility to decontaminate PCB equipment is now under construction in Bataan Province. Unfortunately, there is still no solution for cleaning up PCB-contaminated soil and water.
PCBs, which can cause cancer, are just one among the many toxic chemicals lingering in our environment, and Crizel’s story is one among hundreds of thousands of lives affected by toxic pollution.