22 July 2018

An exodus of 1,600 indigenous Lumad evacuees in Surigao del Sur, a mass arrest of church workers and leaders in Northern Mindanao, and systematic attempts to deport foreign missionaries who have worked in solidarity with communities opposing big mines and plantations are the latest episodes of human rights violations targeting environmental defenders in the Philippines leading up to President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address (SONA).

“Will this be Duterte’s driving message in his SONA, that environmental defenders should be driven away from their forests, rivers and fields? Does Duterte intend to announce that an estimated 47.7 million tons of coal and around a million hectares of palm oil plantations in Mindanao opposed by these defenders are finally open to his handpicked investors?” said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE).

Department of Energy (DOE) data shows Surigao del Sur has an estimated 47.7 million tons of mineable coal reserves. DOE records also show that mining giant Benguet Corporation has an operating coal mining contract within Lianga and its neighboring Marihatag and San Miguel towns, covering 12 blocks each 1,000 hectares wide. The ancestral lands, cooperatives and schools of the Lumad evacuees are situated on top of these reserves.

Meanwhile, 13 leaders recently arrested from the Northern Mindanao have been leading a region-wide campaign against at least 127,105 hectares of palm oil applications in the region. The national government’s Philippine Palm Oil Road Map 2014-2023 aims to cover almost a million hectares in total across the entire Mindanao island.

Supporting these corridors of resistance through fact finding and solidarity missions have brought harassment, detention, and deporation orders to Australian missionary Sr. Patricia Fox and three United Methodist Church missionaries.

“These attacks by the police and military are clear indicators that Duterte’s counter insurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan and the extended Martial Law declaration are deliberately targeting civilian critics and dissenters. The resistance against land grabs and environmental destruction are treated as crimes. We demand that Martial Law in Mindanao be lifted and the military be pulled out from the Manobos’ ancestral lands. We demand that the harassments against defenders such as Sr. Fox and the ‘Gensan 13’ be immediately rescinded,” ended Dulce.#