Dying for the Earth: PHL still among deadliest countries for environment activists

Jul. 14, 2017

An emotional Christina Lantaw holds a picture of slain farmer and anti-mining advocate Jimmy Saypan during a protest rally led by national minority alliance group Sandugo in front of the Department of Justice office in Padre Faura Street, Manila last October 17, 2016. (Paulo C. Rizal/davaotoday.com)

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — The brutal slaying of 28 land and environmental defenders in 2016 underscores the risk of environmental activism in the Philippines, placing the country again in the global spotlight as one of the deadliest countries in Asia and the world for environment activists.

Such finding was revealed in the report entitled “Defenders of the Earth” released by Global Witness, a London-based international Non-Government Organization (NGO) on Thursday, July 13.

“The Philippines is once against declared as among the deadliest countries in the world for environmental defenders for four years running. The trend is expected to worsen by 2017 with no fundamental change in the country’s environmental policies on one hand,” Leon Dulce, campaign coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, said in a statement Friday.

Dulce said the death toll of environmental defenders is expected to rise because of the “increasingly fascist police and military campaigns of President Rodrigo Duterte.”

Kalikasan PNE monitored at least 10 more cases of environment-related killings just the first half of 2017. The group, whose advocacy is for the environment, is one of the domestic partner organizations of Global Witness.

The Philippines has been among the highest number of killings since 2013, when Global Witness first launched the international report. The international NGO has recorded a total of 144 cases of killings in the country since 2002, according to the group.

The recent report, according to Dulce, declared 2016 as the deadliest year for environment and land defenders with least 200 people killed across the globe, more than twice the number of journalists.

“This meant that almost four people were murdered every week last year. The trend is both growing (up from 185 in 2015) and spreading, with murders reported in 24 countries compared to 16 in 2015,” he said.

Mining was clearly the bloodiest trade, with at least 33 murders linked to the sector. Killings linked to logging companies increased from 15 to 23 in one year, while there were 23 killings connected to agribusiness projects. Almost 40 percent of those murdered, according to Dulce, were indigenous people. Police and soldiers are suspected perpetrators in at least 43 murders.

Kalikasan PNE also noted that the worsening impunity against Filipino environmental defenders under the Duterte administration. The prevailing culture of impunity was attributed to “the fundamentally unchanged economic policies especially on extractive and destructive projects, enforced by its bloody counter-insurgency operations.”

From June 2016 to the present, Kalikasan PNE monitored at least 17 environment-related killings—the worst annual rate of killings over the past two administrations spanning 16 years.

“Mining-related killings accounted for 47 percent of the cases we monitored during the first year of the Duterte administration. Suspected state armed forces were accused of being involved in 41 percent of these cases, and 65 percent were perpetrated in the island of Mindanao where plunder and militarization is most widespread,” Dulce said.

Dulce further noted that among those hardest hit by the increasing militarization are the Lumad people of Mindanao.

A striking case was the murder of Jimmy Saypan, a Lumad peasant leader from the province of Compostela Valley who was brutally killed back in Oct. 10, 2016 by suspected military elements, he said.

Saypan was among the leaders of the Compostela Farmers Association, which led barricades and protest against the Agusan Petroleum and Minerals Corporation, a company affiliated with the San Miguel Corporation.

“The Duterte administration must be held accountable for the worsening climate of impunity against Filipino environmental defenders. Military, paramilitary and police forces should immediately be pulled out of rural communities to stem the militarization, and a full-blown investigation into the country’s security and counter-insurgency programs should be launched,” Dulce said.

Meanwhile, according to Global Witness campaigner Ben Leather:

“States are breaking their own laws and failing their citizens in the worst possible way. Brave activists are being murdered, attacked and criminalised by the very people who are supposed to protect them,” he said.

“Governments, companies and investors have a duty to guarantee that communities are consulted about the projects that affect them, that activists are protected from violence, and that perpetrators are brought to justice,” Leather added. (davaotoday.com)

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