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46 environmental defenders killed in the Philippines in 2019, group says

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
46 environmental defenders killed in the Philippines in 2019, group says
File photo shows environmental activist group Alyansa Tigil Mina picketing near Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila.
The STAR / Edd Gumban, File

MANILA, Philippines — Forty-six environmental defenders in the Philippines have been killed in 2019, a watchdog said in a new report as it called on government agencies to conduct inquiries into human rights violations faced by community activists.

In a report released Monday, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment said there was a 53-percent increase in the number of environmental activists killed this year. The group documented 30 deaths in 2018.

The Philippines was the deadliest country in the world for environmental and land defenders last year, according to a report published by international rights watchdog Global Witness last July.

Kalikasan PNE said conflicts driven by agribusiness and other land grabs comprise 70% of the recorded killings in 2019.

It cited the attacks against members of National Federation of Sugar Workers and Unyon sa Mag-Uuma sa Agusan del Norte as well as the struggles of Lumad communities.

The killed environmental activists stood in defense of almost 1.2 million hectares of forest areas and agricultural plains, the organization stressed.

"These fallen environmental defenders worked to protect ancestral lands and farmlands and to hold accountable agribusiness, mining and other extractive projects over the destruction of ecosystems and the plunder of natural resources," Kalikasan PNE said.

"We stand to lose P212.8 billion worth of ecosystem services every year if environmental defenders in these landscapes continue to be attacked to prevent them from effectively doing their work. These are ecosystem services fundamental to our country’s resilience in the face of the global climate emergency," it added.

Ecosystem services refer to benefits that humans gain from the natural environment like food and water, climate and disease control, nutrient cycles and oxygen production as well as the cultural benefits like recreation.

Militarization

In its report, Kalikasan PNE also said the places subjected to heavy militarization are the areas where most environmental defenders were killed.

Nineteen environmental defenders in Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental have been killed in 2019, making the island the “epicenter” of deaths, the group said.

In 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Memorandum Order 32, which directed the deployment of more troops to Samar, Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental and the Bicol region.

The chief executive also created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict through Executive Order 70. Karapatan earlier told Philstar.com that more individuals have been subjected to red-tagging since the order was signed.

Eleven environmental defenders in Mindanao—under martial law—were killed with positive identification or corroborating circumstances linking to state forces and paramilitary groups, Kalikasan also said in its report.

READHow activists respond to being tagged as rebels

Attacks vs state workers

The watchdog also said there has been a rise in the attacks against state environmental workers. The attacks against government forest rangers and other local government officials comprise 22% of all recorded cases.

On September 4, Bienvinido Veguilla Jr. was hacked to death by illegal loggers in Palawan after his team confiscated the chainsaw they used.

Gaudencio Arana—a Department of Environment and Natural Resources informant assigned in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija—was shot dead on September 11. A month later, forest ranger Ronaldo Corpuz, also assigned in Muñoz was shot dead.

Kalikasan PNE called on the Commission on Human Rights, House of Representatives and the Senate to conduct investigations to look into “policies that promote extractives and consequently instigate attacks against environmental defenders.”

It also urged for the passage of the Human Rights Defenders Bill, which seeks to prevent violations and abuses against rights activists.

ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENDERS KALIKASAN PNE
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