Climate and Environment

Philippines still deadliest country in Asia for environmentalists — Global Witness

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Philippines still deadliest country in Asia for environmentalists � Global Witness
People participate in a rally during a global day of action on climate change in Manila on November 6, 2021, as world leaders attend the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.
AFP / Maria Tan

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines has been listed the deadliest country in Asia for land and environmental defenders for the ninth consecutive year, with more than a quarter of killings in 2021 linked to mining.  

According to a report by international organization Global Witness, 19 environmentalists were killed in the Philippines last year, making it the fourth deadliest country in the world. Mexico, with 54 killings, was first, followed by Colombia (33), Brazil (26), the Philippines, and Nicaragua (15).

While the Philippines saw a drop in killings from 30 in 2020, at least 270 land defenders were killed in the country between 2012 and 2021.

"Each and every death of a defender is a sign that our economic system is broken. Fueled by the pursuit of profit and power, there is a war over nature and the frontlines are the Earth’s remaining biodiverse regions," the report read.

READ: Land grabbing and logging in a protected area? Hontiveros seeks Senate probe

Land conflicts lead to attacks

Global Witness found that land conflicts were a key driver of the attacks worldwide. Mining was the sector linked to most killings at 27. Majority of the attacks took place in Mexico with 14, followed by the Philippines with six and Venezuela with four.

In 2021, the Duterte administration lifted the nationwide ban on open-pit mining and the nine-year-old prohibition on new mining agreements. Environment and human rights groups warned the policy reversals could further endanger defenders and the lands they are protecting.

"Steaming ahead with development projects without any consideration for human rights raises serious concerns about the future of land and environmental defenders in a country with one of the highest levels of killings of defenders in the world," Global Witness said.

READ: For Palawan IPs, nickel mining is a threat to the community's survival

Forty percent of all fatal attacks targeted indigenous peoples, who only make up 5% of the world’s population, according to Global Witness. Such attacks were documented predominantly in Mexico, Colombia, Nicaragua, Peru, and the Philippines.

The organization found that 80% of killings over the past decade in the Philippines were linked to protests against company operations and that a third of the killings are linked to mining, adding "impunity is rife: it is suspected that state forces are behind the majority of killings in the few cases where the identity of the perpetrators is documented."

RELATED: Tumandok land defenders' lawyer stabbed in Ilolilo

Safe environment

Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment stressed that the government has not taken the attacks against environmentalists seriously. Although President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has talked about climate and the environment, "this statistic has not been mentioned, despite the crucial role environmental defenders play in the fight against climate change,” said Jon Bonifacio, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

"[W]hile the slight drop in the number of killings should be noted, unless specific measures are in place to protect environmental defenders—least of all even just recognizing the problem on a national level—these killings will undoubtedly continue," he added.

Global Witness recommended that governments create safe environments and civic space for defenders, and require companies and financial institutions to carry out due diligence on human rights and environmental risks.

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