Hontiveros urges colleagues to pass bill protecting environmental, land defenders

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Hontiveros urges colleagues to pass bill protecting environmental, land defenders
File photo shows environmental activist group Alyansa Tigil Mina picketing near Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila.
The STAR / Edd Gumban, File

MANILA, Philippines — It is time for lawmakers in the upper chamber to approve a measure that would ensure the protection of land and environmental activists as the threats and attacks against these defenders continue to worsen.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros stressed this Thursday following a report of international rights watchdog Global Witness that stressed there has been “disturbing” jump in the violence faced community activists, indigenous leaders and NGO workers who oppose logging, mining and fruit growing businesses under the current administration.

There have been at least 113 murdered environmental and land activists since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in July 2016. Three years before his rule, at least 65 were killed.

In an earlier report, Global Witness said the Philippines was the deadliest country for environmental and land defenders in 2018 with at least 30 recorded deaths.

Hontiveros said this “deeply disturbing and frankly outrageous record” should prod the Senate to protect those who defend the country’s land and environmental resources.

She called on her colleagues to pass the upper chamber’s version of the Human Rights Defenders Protection Act, which was introduced by Sen. Leila de Lima. She was a co-author of the proposed measure. 

“With the alarming rate of killings and harassment, this is an urgent concern. It is not only a responsibility but also a groundbreaking opportunity: if we take swift action, the Philippines will be the first country in Asia to pass a bill that specifically legislates for the protection and respect of those defending our most fundamental rights,” Hontiveros said.

In the 17th Congress, the House of Representatives approved its version of the Human Rights Defenders Protection bill. The Senate version of the bill languished in the upper chamber.

“This Senate holds great power and great responsibility over the lives of those who defend our land and our environmental resources—in other words, those who selflessly and bravely work for the benefit of the planet and of us all. It is our duty to stand behind them,” Hontiveros said.

She added that lawmakers must help address the root causes of the attacks and must provide justice for those murdered.

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