Philippines ‘deadliest’ place for environmental defenders

Denuded mountains at a mining site in Carrascal, Surigao del Sur. MindaNews file photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

The Philippines has been named as the “deadliest” country for environmental defenders with the highest death toll last year, the UK-based watchdog Global Witness said in its 2018 annual report.

Thirty environmentalists were killed last year in the Philippines, the report says.

In 2017, Global Witness said 48 environmental defenders were killed in the Philippines, the highest ever recorded in an Asian country. Many of the killings in 2017 and 2018 were linked to agribusiness.

Worldwide, at least three defenders were killed each week of last year, the group’s latest report Enemies of the State? says.

In a separate statement the watchdog noted the “criminalization of activists and their communities. Evidence from across continents shows that governments and companies are using countries’ courts and legal systems as instruments of oppression against those who threaten their power and interests.”

“As detailed in Global Witness’s report, for example, indigenous activists in the Philippines have faced death threats, been thrown in jail and had their homes demolished for opposing the use of their land to grow bananas for sale on global markets,” it added.

“This is a phenomenon seen around the world: land and environmental defenders are declared terrorists, locked up or hit with paralyzing legal attacks, for defending their rights, or simply for living on lands that are coveted by others,” Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, said in a statement.

Global Witness cited the killing of nine farmers in Barangay Bulanon, Sagay City in Negros Occidental on October 20 by unknown assailants. The victims occupied a plot of land at Hacienda Nene in Bulanon.

“Theirs is not an isolated case. The Philippines has consistently ranked as one of the deadliest countries in the world for people protecting their land or the environment,” it said.

Colombia ranked as the second “deadliest” country with 24 killings, India with 23 and Brazil with 20. Thirteen of the 23 victims in India joined a protest against a copper mine in Tamil Nadu.

Philippine human rights blamed the deaths on the military, police and paramilitary forces.

But Malacañang on Tuesday attributed the deaths of land rights activists to the “rivalry” between claimants.

“That happens if there are conflicts among claimants to a particular land. Killings occur because of the viciousness of the rivalry between the claimants,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.

“Let me tell you that the government will always be concerned with respect to any violence inflicted against the citizens of this country, whether done by outside forces or by those inside this country,” he added. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)