MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/16 April) – Between 2002 and 2013, a total of 908 people were killed worldwide for their work on environment and land issues. Sixty-seven of these killings happened in the Philippines, making the country the third most dangerous place for environment and land defenders, the London-based Global Witness said in its report released Tuesday.
On top of the unsavory list is Brazil with 448 killings followed by Honduras with 109. Closely tailing the Philippines is Peru with 58 and Colombia with 52.
The report, which covers 35 countries, said “known killings of environmental and land defenders have dramatically increased” and noted that three times as many people were killed in 2012 than 10 years before. A total of 147 deaths were recorded in 2012.
But Global Witness said the number of victims could be higher given the difficulty of doing field investigations in a number of African and Asian countries. “A time lag on reporting means that killings in 2013 are likely to be higher than the 95 documented so far,” the group said.
“The principal causes leading to these deaths are opposition to land-grabbing and unfair land ownership, large-scale mining operations, deforestation, illegal logging and hydroelectric projects,” it added.
The report attributed most of the killings to conflicts over land ownership and control in combination with other issues like mining and deforestation.
In the Philippines, Global Witness said, “opposition to mining operations…dominates the suspected motives behind most of the killings. Conflicts over mining account for 42 murders of environmental and land defenders since 2002.”
The nongovernment organization cited the case of Jimmy Liguyon of San Fernando, Bukidnon who was shot dead on March 5, 2012 by suspected militiamen in front of his family, who believed he was killed for opposing the plan of a Lumad group to undertake mining operations in their place.
Weeks after the killing, Butsoy Salusad, a former New People’s Army rebel who organized a group called New Indigenous People’s Army for Reform, admitted in a radio interview that he killed Liguyon.
Salusad has remained at large even after a court in Malaybalay City had issued a warrant for his arrest, while Liguyon’s family and supporters have fled their village due to fear of reprisal.
The report also cited the death of Juvy Capion and her two sons on October 18, 2012 in an operation by the 27th Infantry Battalion in Sitio Alyong, Barangay Kiblawis in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur.
The soldiers claimed they had an encounter with the group of Daguel Capion, Juvy’s husband who has taken up arms against Sagittarius Mines Inc.
The prosecutor’s office of Digos City dropped the complaint filed against 15 soldiers tagged in the incident.
Global Witness blamed the absence of justice on the “low capacity” of the Philippine judicial system to deliver justice for victims and their families.
The United Nations’ human rights bodies and other watchdogs have also noted what they called a prevailing atmosphere of impunity in the Philippines.
“This lack of redress for victims and their families has an additional silencing effect on environmental activism, in turn deterring others from protecting rights to the environment and land,” Global Witness said.
Quoting Isolete Wichinieski, National Coordinator of the Commisao Pastoral da Terra in Brazil, it added, “What feeds the violence is the impunity.”