Former senator, activist Heherson Alvarez dies from coronavirus

Pia Ranada
Former senator, activist Heherson Alvarez dies from coronavirus
Alvarez passes away at the age of 80 after a life devoted to public service

MANILA, Philippines – Former senator Heherson Alvarez lost his battle against the novel coronavirus, his family said on Monday, April 20.

Alvarez, known to many as Sonny, was 80. He passed away Monday, according to his son Hexilon Alvarez, around 3 weeks after it was first announced that he and his wife, theater artist Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, were positive for the virus and in critical condition.

“It’s a very difficult time for the family. We are in the middle of making arrangements for his immediate cremation,” his son, Hex, told Rappler.

“The scourge of COVID-19 is a treacherous plague that cannot be taken lightly. It has cruelly robbed countless families of their loved ones, without a chance to be with them and properly say goodbye to those we hold dear,” he continued.

Cecile has been discharged from the hospital and is expected to make a recovery.

Heherson and Cecile had fought COVID-19 together, confined in separate rooms of the same hospital. In mid-March, Alvarez appeared to have been recovering, according to information shared by family.

In early April, Alvarez was moved to a new intensive care unit dedicated to COVID-19 where an X-ray showed he was improving though he remained in critical condition.

The couple were set to undergo an experimental plasma therapy, in which they would receive blood from recovered coronavirus patients that contained antibodies that could fight off the virus. Last April 13, the Alvarez family called for blood donors.

Over 400 people have died from the coronavirus in the Philippines, out of more than 6,000 confirmed cases. (READ: Philippines coronavirus cases rise to 6,459, death toll hits 428)

Devoted public servant

In his many years in government, Alvarez has been a senator, congressman, Cabinet member, human rights activist, and environmental advocate.

Alvarez first gained prominence for his activism against the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. He was among those who organized opposition to the regime from overseas, while he was exiled in the United States.

But after fighting the oppressive regime, Alvarez would soon serve in the Philippine government, under multiple administrations.

He was elected senator in the first post-EDSA Revolution Senate, eventually serving two terms, from 1987 to 1998. He was then elected representative of the 4th district of Isabela, his province of birth, keeping the post from 1998 to 2001.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III mourned the death of the late lawmaker, saying he learned a lot from his erstwhile 9th Congress colleague.

“It grieves me to learn of that news. He was a fighter! It was an honor for me to have served with him in the 9th Congress,” he said in a message to reporters on Monday.

House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr hailed Alvarez as an exemplary lawmaker, environmental advocate, and public servant.

“Senator Alvarez distinguished himself by being a fearless leader who championed causes that needed to be fought, regardless of the odds or popularity of the advocacy,” he said in a statement.

Alvarez also served in the executive branch, serving as Cabinet member in two administrations.

Under Corazon Aquino, Alvarez became the first Agrarian Reform secretary. In 2001, he was appointed Environment Secretary by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

In 2009, he became the first secretary of the Climate Change Commission. He would serve as a commissioner even during the administration of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

Alvarez sought a congressional seat in the 4th district of Isabela in the 2019 midterm elections but withdrew from the race two days before election day, citing the prevalence of vote-buying in the campaign.

He had said then that cases of vote-buying “makes the electoral process a sham.”

Alvarez ran under PDP-Laban, the party of President Rodrigo Duterte, whom he thanked for endorsing him for the post.

Alvarez had hoped that the 2019 polls “would have been my last effort to render public service after several decades of cumulative experience.” –



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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at