MANILA, Philippines – With 113 killings since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office, the Philippines is considered the world’s most dangerous country for environmental activists, according to international environment watchdog Global Witness.
This is an increase from 65 deaths three years before Duterte’s term. At least 46 percent of these killings were allegedly carried out by armed state forces, and 44 percent of these occurred in Mindanao; 27 percent of those killed were members of indigenous groups.
In terms of the attack’s origins, 36 percent were linked to agriculture while 27 percent were about mining issues.
Global Witness’ Senior Campaigner Ben Leather, who has investigated threats made by various governments, said in a press conference on Tuesday that there have been more killings in the Philippines as compared to other Asian countries.
“Our investigation finds that the Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to stand up for your environment and your land rights. The Philippines has had more killings of land and environment activists than anywhere else in Asia ever since Global Witness began documenting this in,” Leather said.
“But actually the Philippines became the most dangerous country on earth, with more killings than anywhere else. Activists face not only systematic threats, attacks, imprisonment. Attacks against them, their colleagues, but also their family members, crimes that are rarely ever prosecuted,” he explained.
The group has blamed Duterte for the rising trend of violence and impunity against environment activists, claiming that he is not fulfilling his campaign promise to protect the country’s natural resources.
“When President Duterte came into power, he made three clear promises to his electorate: to eliminate corruption, to protect the precious environment of the Philippines, and to safeguard marginalized groups such as indigenous communities,” Leather said.
“Our new investigation could not be clearer – Duterte’s government has failed enormously on all three promises, and has left land and environmental defenders to be attacked with impunity. Businesses from coal to agribusiness, from mining to tourism, are allowed to run rampant and irreparably damage the lives of ordinary Filipinos. Corruption, within major government bodies, and conflicts of interest affecting well-known politicians is most certainly not under control,” he added.
When Duterte assumed office, one of the things his critics lauded him for was his strict stance on protecting the environment, as late Environment Secretary Gina Lopez then waged a war against illegal mining and illegal logging.
However, after Lopez’ appointment was rejected, alleged environmental abuses continued, as opposition groups insisted that Duterte had turned a blind eye to the attacks. Recently, a forest ranger of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was hacked to death by alleged illegal loggers.
“If the Filipino government is going to deliver on its promises, it has to protect land and environmental defenders and stand up to big business and corrupt politicians,” Leather said. /muf