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Asia’s deadliest place for environmentalists

MANILA (UCAN): Some 48 environmental campaigners in the Philippines were murdered in 2017, a 71 per cent increase on the 28 killings in 2016. Most victims were tribal people trying to protect their ancestral lands from mining companies and plantation owners, according to a report, At What Cost?, from international non-government organisation, Global Witness.
That makes the Philippines the second most dangerous country in the world after Brazil with 57 murder cases, and Asia’s most dangerous.
“That is the most murders ever recorded in Asia in a single year,” said Global Witness, which tracks natural resource exploitation, conflict, poverty, corruption, and human rights abuses around the world.
The report highlights cases in the Philippines and Mexico and the struggles of tribal people in these countries.
The release of the report came a day after Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, claimed during his State of the Nation address that environmental protection has been his top priority since coming to office two years ago.
In his address, Duterte said he had ordered mining companies to repair the damage they have done to the environment as he warned of restricting mining operations and prohibiting open-pit mines.
“It (mining) is destroying my country. It is destroying the environment. It will destroy the world of tomorrow or our children,” the president said.
However, the non-government Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment said the president’s tough talk has not been matched by action.
Leon Dulce, the group’s national coordinator, said the number of commercial large-scale mines operating in the Philippines increased from 41 to 50 in 2017.
“The ongoing government review of closed or suspended mines is also expected to clear 24 of 28 projects,” Dulce said.
Last year, Philippine lawmakers refused to confirm Gina Lopez, Duterte’s choice for environment secretary, after she ordered a stop to more than two dozen mining operations following an audit.
Her successor, former armed forces chief, Roy Cimatu, is seen as more friendly to investors. He initially gave the nod for large-scale open-pit mining operations but reversed his position in June when he lifted a ban on small-scale mines.
The Global Witness report also noted that, “for the first time, agribusiness surpassed mining as the most dangerous sector to oppose.”
It said 46 defenders who protested against palm oil, coffee, tropical fruit and sugar cane plantations, as well as cattle ranching, were murdered in 2017.
In the Philippines, almost half of the killings—20 cases—were linked to struggles against big commercial agriculture firms.
The report noted that soldiers were suspects in 56 per cent of the killings, 67 per cent of which were in the southern Philippines.
Among the cases cited was the murder of eight tribal men in the town of Lake Sebu, in South Cotabato province, in December. Soldiers reportedly attacked a village, killing tribal leader Datu Victor Danyan and seven of his relatives (Sunday Examiner, January 21).
The military claimed the soldiers were going after communist guerrillas who fled to the village after attempting an ambush.
Local officials and Church leaders disputed the claim, saying the tribe was known to be battling against a commercial coffee plantation in the area.
“The backdrop to this rising death toll is a president who is brazenly anti-human rights ... and the failure of government bodies to provide protection for at-risk activists,” read the Global Witness report.
Dulce warned that Duterte’s push to open tribal lands to industrial plantations would result in more violence in rural communities.
The president last year announced that he would allocate 1.6 million hectares of land, mostly in Mindanao, for industrial plantations.

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