DAVAO CITY, Philippines — A report from an environmental group noted 46 community defenders are victims of political killings this year, which is 53% more than last year’s report.
The group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment released this data from their year-end report “Taking Lands, Taking Lives”.
Around 63% of 46 Filipino environmental defenders killed were farmers and agricultural workers; while 20% were indigenous people (IP). Forest rangers and government officials working to protect the environment were also not spared, with 13% and 22% cases recorded, respectively.
Kalikasan said that majority of the killings are linked to the communities’ resistance against agribusiness and other land grabbing cases such as mining, plantation, and logging.
“These deaths represent the arduous people’s struggles to protect a total of 1.2 million hectares of forest and agricultural landscapes that provide valuable ecosystem services amounting to P212.8 billion annually,” the group said.
The group said 57% of the cases were linked to state forces, 24% to suspected death squad, and 17% to unidentified gunmen.
Included in the report are attacks against small farmers and Lumad(collective term for IPs in Mindanao) in Bukidnon province who struggle to reject agribusiness plantations and mining application interests across the Pantaron Mountain Range.
“Paramilitary groups and riding-in-tandem assassins are systematically targeting members and leaders of farmers group Unyon sa Mag-uuma sa Agusan del Norte(UMAN) and indigenous groups under the Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization,” the group pointed out.
As the report is being released, a farmer couple, Rolando and Josephine Egtob, both members of UMAN, were reportedly killed last December 2 in Barangay San Mateo, Butuan City.
Authorities claimed the couple were alleged communist rebels who were killed in a legitimate encounter, a claim refuted by the family.
Kalikasan also called for the United Nations to consider conducting an international fact finding mission or establishing a commission on inquiry to investigate deeper into the killings of environmental defenders.
“Mindanao remains a restive hotspot with the extended declaration of Martial Law over the island being leveraged to crackdown on mineral-rich and agricultural lands within indigenous Lumad territories and land reform struggles,” they added.
The rise in killings have prompted another group, the PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) to name the Philippines as one of the “deadliest” countries for farmers and indigenous peoples.
Among Kalikasan’s recommendations for actions are for the Commission on Human Rights to conduct national inquiry on the rise of human rights violations; for the House of Representatives to look into policies “that promote extractives and consequently instigate attacks” against environmental defenders, such as Mining Act of 1995 and Agribusiness Venture Agreement schemes.
The group urged the Department of Justice and other government bodies to also step up its efforts in prosecuting and convicting perpetrators and masterminds of the killings. “There is essentially zero resolution to all cases we have monitored since 2001,” it noted. (davaotoday.com)