25 July 2018

Environmental activist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) said the Duterte government’s “discreet, deceptive, but deadly” drive for the expansion of large-scale mines and plantations are responsible for the Philippines ranking as the second deadliest country in the world for environmental defenders in a global report.

“Duterte’s fiery rhetoric on the environment is belied by his militarized push for big mines and plantations making 2017 the bloodiest year for environmental defenders. How can you claim to exhort your agencies to respect the people’s right to a balanced and healthful ecology if the grassroots who have long been the first and last line of defence for the environment are being systematically murdered?” said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

This was in reaction to the recent State of the Nation Address delivered by President Rodrigo Duterte, where he called on line agencies and local government units to “uphold the concept of intergenerational responsibility in [the exploration] and utilization of our mineral wealth, the protection and preservation of our biodiversity, anchored on the right to a balanced and healthy ecology.”

“Around 1.6 million hectares of agricultural and watershed areas are being offered up to agribusiness plantations nationwide. Operating large-scale mines have increased from 41 to 50 in just a year, and 24 mine closure and suspension orders are up for reversal. Tell me this is not business as usual under Duterte,” declared Dulce.

International rights watchdog Global Witness released the report that documented at least 48 environment-related killings in the Philippines, making it Asia’s deadliest country and the world’s second deadliest next only to Brazil with 57 cases.

Trends of impunity

Dulce said this was not the first time the Philippines has been deemed by among the most dangerous places for environmental activists by the Global Witness’ annual report.

“The Philippines has been in the world’s top three deadliest hotspots for environmental defenders for five years running. The Duterte government’s crackdown on critics and dissenters and declaration of Martial Law in resource-rich Mindanao have driven the killings to unprecedented heights by more than 70 percent,” Dulce explained.

“In our own monitoring, 53 percent of the environment-related killings involved indigenous and peasant activists opposing large-scale plantations owned by the likes of Lapanday, Dole, and Sumifru. Military or paramilitary troops militarizing corridors of resistance against big plantations and mines are suspects in 56 percent of the recorded killings,” Dulce furthered.

Protections for defenders

The Global Witness report recommended to the Philippine government to strengthen institutions for the protection of indigenous and land rights, including strengthening the mandate and accountability of the inter-agency task force on indigenous peoples.

It also recommended the prosecution of all military personnel and armed groups known or suspected of perpetrating extrajudicial killings on behalf of state or private interests in civilian tribunals. Lastly, Global Witness urged the Philippine Congress to pass and implement a law for the recognition and protection of human rights defenders, incorporating civil society input.

“Duterte’s continuing fiery rhetoric on environmental protection continues to be belied by his iron hand against environmental defenders. We recall how Duterte said on different occasions that he will bomb the schools and villages of indigenous Lumad and that he will choose himself which investments he will bring into their lands,” said Dulce.

“Duterte must be held accountable over the killings and various other human rights violations systematically directed at environmental defenders. Oplan Kapayapaan, the Martial Law in Mindanao, and other deadly security policies targeting environmental defenders must be repudiated,” ended Dulce.#