Report: PH still deadliest for environmentalists in Asia
A report published last week has shown that the Philippines has, for 10 years, remained the deadliest country in Asia for environmental defenders.
Filipino environmentalists said the finding highlighted the “perilous terrain” facing them under an administration intending to leverage the country’s mineral wealth for economic growth.
International watchdog Global Witness, in its report published on Sept. 13, said at least 177 environmentalists were killed in 2022. Of that total, 16 were in Asia and 11, or majority of the fatalities in the region, were recorded in the Philippines.
The Philippines also ranked fifth most dangerous country for environmentalists, following Honduras (14 deaths), Mexico (30), Brazil (34) and Colombia which, at 60, had the most number of environmentalists killed.
Fatalities from DENR
The report listed the names of those in the Philippines killed in the past year, including volunteer teachers Chad Booc and Gelejurain Ngujo II, peasant organizer Ericson Acosta, Richard Mendoza, Elgyn Balonga, Robert Aragon, Tirso Añar, Joseph Jimenez, Silvestre Fortades Jr., Rose Marie Galias and Eugene Lastrella.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) declined to comment on the report, saying it was not aware of the “circumstances of each of the cases.”
The agency noted, however, that it has about 2,500 forest rangers, forest protection officers and other personnel tasked to help in the protection of the environment.
There were also fatalities among them who were not included in the report. Two forest rangers and one forest protection officer were killed in the line of duty last year, according to the DENR.
With 281 fatalities, the Philippines also ranked third (after Colombia’s 382 and Brazil’s 376) among countries with the highest number of slain environmentalists since 2012, the report said, adding that one-third of those killed had opposed mining operations.
Jean Lindo, spokesperson of the Environmental Defenders Congress, said the alliance of environmentalists was “deeply concerned” about the ban on new mining operations that then President Rodrigo Duterte lifted in 2021.
“Our worry primarily revolves around communities residing near mineral resources, many of whom have vehemently opposed the encroachment of large, and often foreign, mining corporations,” she said in a statement sent to the Inquirer.
Lindo cited the communities situated near areas with rich mineral resources including those in the Cordilleras, Nueva Vizcaya province, the Zambales mountain range, the whole island of Mindoro, Negros Occidental province and the Caraga and Soccsksargen regions.
The network became more apprehensive after President Marcos declared that mineral exploration and extraction would be integral to the economic blueprint of his administration.
“With this renewed push for mining, we are forced to brace for a renewed onslaught against environmental defenders and entire communities that we now recognize as environmental defender communities,” Lindo said.
The Global Witness report cited the case earlier this year of Sibuyan Island, in the archipelago of Romblon province, where residents resisted the operations of Altai Philippines Mining Corp. and formed a barricade to stop the company’s hauling trucks from leaving the port.
Two residents were hurt on Feb. 3 when policemen tried to disperse the protesters who were blocking the path of the trucks.
Human rights advocate Rodne Galicha said riot police told them that they were there to maintain “peace and order.” But instead “they were all lined up on the highway and then attempted to guide the company’s trucks through,” he said.
The report quoted environmental youth leader Charles Rocil as saying that “It was a mix of anxiety and fear that someone might die anytime because of the [advancing] trucks…. But it turned out the police were the ones who tried to hurt us. And actually, they did hurt us.”
The Global Witness report is a “disturbing truth that hounds every environmental defender and organizations under the current dangerous political situation,” said fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya).
Fishers continue to face similar threats in their efforts to protect marine and aquatic resources from profit-driven projects, the group said in a statement.
Pamalakaya also cited the case of environmental activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano, whose circumstances have drawn controversy after a security official claimed over the weekend that they were now under government custody after seeking the government’s help for wanting to leave the “communist movement.”
“Human rights violations and attacks against activists and democratic organizations send a chilling effect to the grassroots. This deadly streak represses vulnerable communities and sectors from taking action, [considering] how dire their economic conditions are,” the group said.
Reacting to the report, the Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (Agham) called out the Marcos administration for its “silence and inaction” over the killings and forced disappearances of environmental defenders.
“Why does the state seem reluctant to [protect] those who defend the environment? Worse, they are the ones who persecute environmental defenders,” said Cleng Julve, campaigns and advocacies officer of Agham.
“Despite the public clamor to protect the environment, the government continues to approve destructive projects,” she said, adding that with the ongoing climate crisis, the implementation of such projects would only exacerbate the hazards confronting vulnerable communities. INQ