Filipino environmental defenders ask UN rights body to look into threats they face

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Filipino environmental defenders ask UN rights body to look into threats they face
In this file photo, fisherfolk protest a planned airport project in Bulacan province.
Philstar.com / Gaea Cabico, file

MANILA, Philippines — Environmental defenders called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to conduct an independent investigation into the worsening situation of environment and land activists.

They asked the UNHRC to conduct an independent fact-finding mission or establish a Commission of Inquiry in the Philippines.

“There are serious challenges to life, security and liberty of environmental defenders in the Philippines, which redound to transgressions on the rights to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environmental of communities, including that of indigenous peoples and peasants,” Clemente Bautista, international network coordinator of environmental group Kalikasan, said during the 43rd UNHRC session in Geneva.

In 2019, 46 environmental defenders were killed in the Philippines, according to Kalikasan. This was a 53-percent increase from 30 deaths recorded in 2018.

The Philippines was the deadliest country in the world for environmental and land defenders, according to watchdog Global Witness, which tracks threats and attacks against rights defenders.

There were at least 113 murdered environmental and land activists since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in July 2016. Three years before administration, no fewer than 65 were killed.

Cullamat: IPs, peasants targeted for opposing mining and logging

Rep. Eufemia Cullamat (Bayan Muna), a Manobo leader, said that most of the environmental defenders killed were indigenous peoples and peasants who were at the frontline of protecting the country’s forest and land resources.

“In the course of conserving our natural resources and defending communities from big mining companies, commercial loggers and agro-corporations, indigenous peoples and peasants are targeted for extrajudicial executions and judicial harassment,” the Bayan Muna representative said.

She told the UNHRC session that many of her fellow environmental defenders in Surigao del Sur are facing trumped-up charges and at least 60 households from her community evacuated from their homes due to indiscriminate firing and attacks by the military.

Clarissa Ramos of Paghida-et sa Kauswagan Development Group said the encroachment of mining corporations, conversion of agricultural lands and establishment of industrial economic zones in Negros island “will displace thousands of poor families and destroy Negros’ remaining forests and coral reefs.”

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has accused many activist groups opposed to industries like mining and logging of being in league with communist rebels.

The Presidential Communications Operations Office has also advised the UNHRC to be prudent "in assessing claims particularly from sources who have enjoyed the hallowed status of human rights defenders while waging the longest insurgency in Asia and terrorizing communities in the Philippines," the PCOO said in a press release distributed through state media. 



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