We, in the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) request your support for the continuing wave of human rights violations directed at Filipino land and environment defenders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

These violations are occurring amid increasing public discontent over the lack of medical solutions and economic assistance. The United Nations already raised concerns about the Philippines’ highly militarized response to the pandemic. It is among those countries cited to be using repressive measures to implement lockdowns. An alarming trend is that human rights and environmental defenders engaged in humanitarian responses to the public health crisis are being targeted themselves.

On April 19, 2020, former Anakpawis Party-list Rep. Ariel Casilao alongside six other humanitarian responders were arrested and filed with trumped up charges after attempting to deliver relief goods to remote peasant communities engaged in land struggles in the Town of Norzagaray, Bulacan Province.

Rep. Casilao championed the rights of small farmers, farm workers, and fisherfolk during his stint in the House of Representatives in Congress, filing various progressive legislative measures such as a proposed ban on land reclamation activities in Manila Bay and the investigation of killings of land and environmental defenders.

Despite carrying a government-issued food pass, properly equipped with personal protective equipment, and observing physical distancing inside their vehicles, the relief mission was still apprehended allegedly for violating quarantine rules. They are now released on bail.

On April 30, 2020, activist Jory Porquia was shot inside his house by two gunmen in Barangay Santo Nino Norte, Iloilo City where he died on the spot. He was the city coordinator of progressive party Bayan Muna and a member of the Madia-es Ecological Movement, which played a pivotal role in the passage of a decades-old mining ban in Capiz and in successful campaigns against large-scale mining, coal power plants, and large dams across the region.

He also led relief drives for victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, and subsequently helped organize the disaster survivors’ organization Kusog Sang Pumuluyo to empower disaster victims in demanding justice over government neglect. Right before his death, Jory was in the midst of community kitchen and food relief operations in Iloilo City in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On May 2, 2020, 42 family members and colleagues of Jory Porquia were arrested while on their way to lay a wreath and light candles at the site of Jory’s murder, despite following physical distancing measures.

Among the victims were Krisma Niña Porquia, daughter of Jory; Fr. Marco Sulayao of Iglesia Filipina Independiente, chairperson of the Promotion for Church People’s Response – Panay and a known oppositionist to large-scale mining in the islands of Panay and Guimaras; and Atty. Angelo Karlo Guillen of the National Union of People’s Lawyers – Panay, who led legal actions in the campaign for the genuine rehabilitation of Boracay Island and the demands for economic relief of Boracay’s displaced workers in 2018. They have been released on bail at present.

On May 11, 2020, six anti-landgrabbing and anti-coal power plant farmers in Batangas province were arrested. The local residents reported that at least 17 government vehicles and two military trucks scoured the village of Coral ni Lopez in Calaca town, Batangas, to round up the peasant activists.

Samahan ng mga Magsasaka sa Coral ni Lopez (Samacolo) leader and village secretary Virgilio Vidal; his brother Marcelo; village councilor Leovino Julongbayan, Doroteo Bautista; July Julongbayan; and Roilan Tenorio were the arrested individuals in what the joint police-military operation claimed to be an operation against illegal firearms.

Samocolo has been struggling over a land dispute since the 1980s as agrarian reform beneficiaries. They have been victimized by loopholes in the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program allowing landlord Luis Lopez to regain control over the agricultural lands. The local peasant movement also leads the longstanding campaign against the 900-megawatt Calaca Coal-Fired Power Plant.

The Samocolo leaders were actually part of the village government’s cash assistance distribution to their COVID-affected constituents the day before they were arrested.

On the same day, it was announced on social media that Catholic priest Fr. Mark Ambray has become subject of an online red-tagging campaign along with his ministry advocating for indigenous Lumad people’s rights and for the protection of their ancestral lands in Surigao del Sur province.

Fr. Ambray serves as director of the Lumad school Alternative Learning Center for Development (Alcadev), an award-winning alternative school for Lumad youth. Alcadev has been at the forefront of promoting the defense of their tribe’s ancestral lands in the Andap Valley Complex. Alongside the Lumad group MAPASU, Alcadev has also fought the entry of coal and metallic mining projects in their forested land.

Involved in these projects are five companies, consisting of the Romualdez oligarchyowned Benguet Corp., Abacus Coal Exploration and Development Corp., Chineseowned Great Wall Mining and Power Corp., ASK Mining and Exploration Corp., and Coal Black Mining Corp.

On May 12, 2020, an urgent alert was circulated regarding the intensified smear campaign against indigenous Igorot leader Windel Bolinget and the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA). Bolinget, chairperson of CPA, alongside fellow CPA officers Bestang Dekdeken and Santos Mero, were subjected to harassment posts on social media that includes even their immediate family members, a grave taboo in indigenous Cordillera society.

These attacks were observed to have escalated after CPA issued a statement criticizing the aerial dispersal of smear campaign leaflets by two Philippine Army helicopters in some parts of the Cordillera region last Easter Sunday, April 9, 2020. The leaflets assailed the relief operations led by the CPA in response to COVID-19.

CPA is a well-established indigenous network with a decades-old track record of defending their ancestral lands against large-scale mines, large dams, and other extractive and destructive projects. CPA has been at the forefront of the fight against the Lepanto large-scale mine, the prospective geothermal project of a subsidiary of Chevron, and the proposed Sta. Clara Hydro Project in the town of Tinoc, Ifugao Province, to name a few.

Finally on May 15, 2020, the Kalikasan PNE office was subjected to renewed harassment. Its front gate was defaced with red-tagging posters targeting progressive parties and social movements that Kalikasan PNE has worked with.

This was not the first time that the office, which it shares with the Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines, has been subjected to threats and intimidation by state authorities. Last year, the organizations received various reports of constant surveillance and an attempted raid into their office by elements of the Philippine National Police (PNP), particularly the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO).

The two organizations have been also red-tagged/vilified directly and indirectly, where their activities have been implied to be part of the armed communist insurgency in the country.

It is appalling that these baseless and senseless attacks on progressive and cause-oriented organizations, including other well-meaning civilians throughout the country, doing their share of helping the population cope with the pandemic, are consuming the energies of the Duterte administration.

Instead of responding to demands for mass testing, medical and economic relief, more funds for strengthening health care systems from the village to national level, the government persists to ignore these. These trends fit the growing criticism of the Duterte administration’s treatment of the COVID-19 pandemic as a peace and order problem, instead of a public health problem.

We urge all fellow environmental and human rights defenders and our supporters to continue to pressure Filipino public authorities to take action. Let us support our defenders in the Philippines against repression and help them to continue their advocacy for the environment and the people.

We invite you to send the following Letter of Concern that you may customize to your liking, attaching this urgent alert, through mail, email, or fax:

To the Government of the Philippines:

We have received the attached urgent alert regarding the ongoing human rights violations targeting environmental defenders in the Philippines amid the global pandemic.

We express our grave concern over the situation faced by exemplary citizens who work only to protect the global commons for the benefit of all, especially in this time of crisis. We thus urge you to take action on the following:

  1. The immediate dismissal of harassment cases against the Tulong Anakpawis – Sagip Kanayunan defenders, the family and colleagues of Jory Porquia, and all threatened environmental defenders;
  2. The immediate release of all political prisoners from jail on the basis of the UN calls for decongesting jails facing the spread of COVID-19;
  3. The immediate investigation into the AFP’s continuing red-tagging campaign against environmental defenders and organizations to be conducted by an independent body;
  4. The immediate issuance of cease and desist orders of abovementioned large-scale mining companies, particularly on the basis the lack of human rights due diligence over violations linked to their operations;
  5. To ease Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID) guidelines and other restrictive measures particularly affecting defenders engaged in humanitarian response and other development and advocacy work addressing the COVID-19 pandemic;
  6. An end to the Philippine Government’s counter-insurgency program under the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) which encourages State security forces to threaten, harass, arbitrarily and illegally arrest defenders tagged as ‘Enemies of the State’;
  7. The Philippine Government to adhere and respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all major Human Rights instruments that it is a party and signatory.

Thank you and we hope for your immediate action.

Name of Signatory

You may send your communications to:

H.E. Rodrigo Duterte
President of the Republic
Malacañang Palace,
JP Laurel St., San Miguel Manila Philippines
Voice: (+632) 564 1451 to 80 Fax: (+632) 742-1641 / 929-3968 E-mail: op@president.gov.ph or send message through http://president.gov.ph/contact-us/

Ret. Maj. Gen. Delfin Lorenzana
Department of National Defense
Room 301 DND Building
Camp Emilio Aguinaldo, E. de los Santos Avenue,
Quezon City Voice:+63(2) 911-6193 / 911-0488 / 982-5600
Fax:+63(2) 982-5600 Email: info@dnd.gov.ph, webmaster@dnd.gov.ph

Hon. Menardo Guevarra
Department of Justice
Padre Faura St., Manila
Direct Line 521-8344; 5213721 Trunkline: 523-84-81 loc.214
Fax: (+632) 521-1614 Email: communications@doj.gov.ph

Ret. Gen. Roy Cimatu
Department of Environment and Natural Resources
DENR Building, Visayas Avenue, Diliman, 1100 Quezon City, Philippines
Tel. No. 926-3011,920-4301 Trunkline No. 929-6626 local 2258 IP
Phone Trunkline No. 755-3330 local 1104, 1105 Email: osec@denr.gov.ph

Hon. Jose Luis Martin Gascon
Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Bldg., UP Complex,
Commonwealth Avenue Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines
Voice: (+632) 928-5655, 926-6188 Fax: (+632) 929 0102
Email: chairgascon.chr@gmail.com

Please send us a copy of your email/mail/fax to the above-named government officials, to our address below.

URGENT ALERT Prepared by:

Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) #26 Matulungin Street, Barangay Central, Diliman, Quezon City Tel.: 356-2166 Email: secretariat@kalikasan.net