“Duterte’s continuing diatribes against mining oligarchs and other environmental plunderers should lead to the investigation of corporate interests that have benefited from militarization.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – An environmental group raised the alarm on the state of environmental defenders in the country under the Duterte administration. The Philippines has once again been declared as among the deadliest countries in the world for environmental defenders. It has been so for four years running now, and sadly, it might continue and worsen this year. In a statement, Leon Dulce, Campaign Coordinator of Kalikasan PNE, said the worrying trend is there because there has been no fundamental change in the country’s environmental policies, and President Rodrigo Duterte has increasingly been leaning on fascist police and military campaigns.
In fact, in the first year of the Duterte administration (from June 30 to present), 17 environment defenders were murdered, Dulce said. It can only be hoped that the recorded number of killed won’t be Duterte’s average. Dulce said the Arroyo and Aquino administrations respectively recorded an average of four and seven murders a year during their time.
The Global Witness, a London-based international Non-Government Organization (NGO), released a report entitled ‘Defenders of the Earth.’ The report declared 2016 as the deadliest year for environment and land defenders with at least 200 people killed across the globe. It said that nearly four people were murdered every week in 2016 while protecting their land, forests, and rivers from mining, logging and agricultural companies.
The report warned that the killing of environment defenders is getting more frequent and widespread. More environment defenders (about 200) were killed in 2016 compared to 185 recorded in 2015. The murders were reported in 24 countries compared to 16 in 2015. It said the global total is likely far higher because there are severe limits on available information. “Murder is the sharp end of a range of tactics used to silence defenders, including death threats, arrests, sexual assault, abductions and aggressive legal attacks,” the report said.
The report also noted the increasing criminalization of these activists right across the world.
Included in the report are the murdered environmentalists in the Philippines in 2016. “A voracious mining industry makes the Philippines stand out for killings in Asia, with 28 recorded killings,” The Global Witness said in its key findings.
The Philippines has ranked high in number of killings since 2013 when Global Witness first launched its international report. From 2002 to 2016, the international NGO has recorded a total of 144 cases of killings of environment defenders in the Philippines.
Globally, the report said mining is deadliest to environmental defenders. It recorded nearly three murders per month or 33 murders in 2016. The report also noted that the number of environment defenders killed in relation to logging companies’ operations went up from 15 to 23 in one year, while 23 killed defenders were linked to agribusiness projects.
Almost 40 percent of killed environment defenders were from national minorities. They encounter harassment leading to murder in the course of defending the land they’ve inhabited for generations from companies, landowners or state actors seeking to steal it from them, the report said. In 43 countries, the police and military are the suspected perpetrators.
“Projects are typically imposed on communities without their free, prior and informed consent, backed up by force: police and soldiers are suspected perpetrators in at least 43 murders. Protest is often the only option left to communities exercising their right to have a say about the use of their land and natural resources, putting them on a collision course with those seeking profit at any cost,” said Ben Leather of Global Witness
Leather said “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 reminded the concerned governments that they and the companies and investors have a duty to guarantee that communities are consulted about the projects that affect them, the activists are protected from violence, and the perpetrators are brought to justice.
Killings under Duterte
Despite Duterte’s promise of change and the brief service in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources of former Sec. Gina Lopez, who tried to check the operations of destructive mining projects, nothing has really changed both for the environment and its defenders. Instead, impunity has worsened, said the Kalikasan PNE. The group traces it to the Duterte administration’s “unchanged economic policies especially on extractive and destructive projects, enforced by its bloody counter-insurgency operations.”
Dulce said every other killed environment defender under Duterte is mining-related.
“State armed forces were accused of being involved in 41 percent of these cases, and 65 percent were perpetrated in Mindanao where plunder and militarization are most widespread,” said Dulce.
The indigenous Lumad people of Mindanao are among the hardest hit by the increasing militarization. Dulce highlighted the case of Jimmy Saypan as emblematic of the killing of environment defenders. Saypan was a Lumad peasant leader in Compostela Valley. He was brutally assassinated on October 10, 2016, by suspected military elements.
Saypan was one of the leaders of the Compostela Farmers Association. It led barricades and protests against the Agusan Petroleum and Minerals Corporation, a company affiliated with the San Miguel Corporation.
“Duterte’s continuing diatribes against mining oligarchs and other environmental plunderers should lead to the investigation of corporate interests that have benefited from militarization,” Dulce said. He added that if we don’t hold the big mines and other extractive and destructive projects accountable over these human rights atrocities, then we perpetuate their business-as-usual operations.