Philippines the ‘deadliest’ country in Asia for environmental activists – group
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Philippines the ‘deadliest’ country in Asia for environmental activists – group

THE PHILIPPINES was the “deadliest” country in Asia for land and environmental defenders for the fourth year in a row in 2016, according to research by the international non-government organisation Global Witness.

A report released on Thursday night in the Philippines entitled Defenders of the Earth: Global Killings of Land and Environmental Defenders in 2016 reveals that the country is also the third deadliest globally for environmental activists.

28 killings occurred last year in the largely Roman Catholic nation. Brazil topped the 2016 global listing with 49 killings, followed by Colombia with 37.

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Numbers of killings were found not only to be growing, but spreading out geographically as well. In 2016, Global Witness documented 200 killings across 24 countries, compared to 185 across 16 in 2015. Almost 40 per cent of those murdered were indigenous peoples.

That means nearly four people were murdered every week in 2016 while protecting their land, forests and rivers from mining, logging and agricultural companies, Global Witness said. The report notes that Asia saw an 18 per cent increase in murders of activists in 2016.

“The Philippines is consistently one of the deadliest places to defend the environment, with 28 killings in 2016; most linked to struggles against mining,” it said.

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

Leon Dulce, campaign coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), one of the Philippine partner organisations of Global Witness, said they expect the trend to worsen this year “with no fundamental change in the country’s environmental policies on one hand, and the increasingly fascist police and military campaigns of President Rodrigo Duterte on the other.”

“In just the first half of 2017, we have monitored at least 10 more cases of environment-related killings,” Dulce said in a statement.

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Ex-municipal mayor, Mario Reyes, left, and former Gov. Joel Reyes of western Palawan island province, arrested for the 2011 murder of a radio anchor and prominent environmentalist Gerardo Ortega, attend a press conference at Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok, Thailand, September 2015. Both politicians ran for elected office from prison but lost their respective bids for the vice-mayoralty and mayoralty of Coron last year. The murder trial was still in progress in late 2016. Source: AP

Kalikasan PNE noted the worsening impunity against Filipino environmental defenders under the Duterte administration “was rooted in the fundamentally unchanged economic policies, especially on extractive and destructive projects, enforced by its bloody counter-insurgency operations.”

Since June 2016 when Duterte assumed the presidency, the environmental group has recorded at least 17 environment-related killings, which according to them, “is 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 militarisation is most widespread,” Dulce said.

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.

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.”

Local environment group Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) or Coalition to Stop Mining, a coalition of mining-affected communities and their support groups, called on the Philippines and other governments to put an end to attacks against land, environment and human rights defenders.

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“This is one of the gravest violations of human rights. First, the government already violated their rights to land and balanced ecology, and when they resisted, their rights were violated again. These kinds of governments should be held accountable for these violations,” said Dr. Ben Molino, chairperson of ATM.

Global Witness said their data on killings is likely to be an underestimate given that many murders go unreported, particularly in rural areas.

“Our message to those responsible for these murders is clear: These defenders did not die – they multiplied,” the report stressed.