EDITORIAL - Targeting environment defenders

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - Targeting environment defenders

Drug suspects aren’t the only ones with an inordinately high murder rate in the Philippines. Studies have shown that the country is also one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists, legal professionals and environmental defenders.

UK-based non-government organization Global Witness, in its latest report titled Last Line of Defense, declared that the Philippines recorded the third highest number of killings last year targeting environmentalists, with 29 fatal attacks. The Philippines was behind only Colombia, where 65 deaths were recorded, and Mexico with 30.

Global Witness reported that those killed in the Philippines were opposing illegal logging, mining and dam projects that posed threats to the environment. Among the targeted groups are indigenous peoples whose lands are threatened by the projects.

Environmental defenders aren’t the only ones targeted; even the lawyers who defend them are slain. The Integrated Bar of the Philippines has condemned the murder last Sept. 15 of Juan Macababbad near his home in Surallah, South Cotabato. The 68-year-old human rights lawyer was shot dead by two men on a motorcycle.

Macababbad, a member of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers and vice chairman of the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao, represented indigenous lumads and small farmers opposing aerial crop spraying, large plantations and coal mining in South Cotabato. Environmental groups said he had been receiving death threats for some time.

Global Watch is calling not only for justice for the victims, but also for governments to require companies and investors to conduct due diligence on human rights and environment issues across their supply chains and operations. The group is urging companies to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on attacks against environmental defenders affected by the firms’ operations.

The Philippine National Police has vowed to find the killers of Macababbad. Unless his murderers are brought to justice, more lawyers and environmental defenders will be targeted. Every unsolved killing intensifies impunity.

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