The Philippines, next to Colombia, rose as the world’s deadliest country for land and environment defenders and things are about to get worse amid the persistence of COVID-19 pandemic.
This was according to a Global Witness report, which has declared 2019 as the deadliest year on record for people defending their homes, forests, and rivers against climate-destructive industries, with 212 murdered land and environmental defenders while countless people were silenced by violent attacks, arrests, death threats, sexual violence and lawsuits.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown have intensified the problems land and environmental defenders face. Governments around the world – from the US to Brazil and Colombia to the Philippines – have used the crisis to strengthen draconian measures to control citizens and roll back hard-fought environmental regulations,” Global Witness said.
The Global Witness report showed that over half of all reported killings last year occurred in just two countries, which are Colombia and the Philippines.
“The Philippines has become even deadlier for activists. It has been consistently named as one of the worst places in Asia for attacks against defenders, and had the highest number of recorded killings – 30 – globally in 2018. But things got even worse in 2019, with the number of reported murders rising to 43,” Global Witness said.
“The relentless vilification of defenders by the government and widespread impunity for their attackers may well be driving the increase,” it added.
The report linked most of the murders to the mining industry, with 50 anti-mining defenders all over the world killed in 2019. Again, the Philippines has most mining-related killings, with 16 deaths.
Attacks, murders and massacres were also used to clear the path for commodities like palm oil and sugar, the report showed. In 2019, Global Witness documented 34 global killings linked to large-scale agriculture, an increase of over 60 percent since 2018.
The report also showed that government employees whose task is to look after land and environment were also not spared in the killings.
Last year, across the world, 19 government employees and park rangers responsible for protecting the environment were killed. Of these murders, eight took place in the Philippines alone, also making it the country with the highest number of documented state-employee killings.
Reacting to the report, the Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda said over the phone that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is now asking the country’s lawmakers to pass a law that will strengthen the legal mandate of the agency for the enforcement of environmental laws.
“The DENR is asking for the understanding of the legislative body to come up with a law creating the enforcement bureau for the DENR,” Antiporda said. “We need that legal mandate for stronger enforcement of environmental laws.”
Antiporda said that right now, with limited resources and enforcement mandate, DENR’s forest rangers can only be given shotguns for precautionary measures, while illegal loggers are complete with high power rifles and dynamites.
Meanwhile, civil society organization Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) is “extremely distressed” with the Duterte administration for allowing the aforementioned killings to happen.
The group also feared that with the implementation of Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, more harassment, threats, and killings will happen, especially when local communities continue and intensify their resistance against destructive mining in the Philippines.
The alliance noted that red-tagging and legal harassments of anti-mining leaders were recently recorded in Nueva Vizcaya, Palawan, Masbate, Leyte and South Cotabato.
Most of these increased resistance activities were allegedly traced to the reversal of the suspension and closure orders issued by late and former Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez.
To recall, Environment Roy Cimatu has recently recommended the lifting of the suspension orders to at least nine mining projects.