MANILA – The Philippines had the third highest number of environmental defenders killed last year compared to other countries, a report by human rights organization Global Witness said.
In a Sept. 13 report, the group said 29 environmental defenders were killed in the Philippines in 2020. Colombia recorded 65 deaths, and Mexico, 30.
Global Witness said that according to their data, over half of the lethal attacks against human rights defenders in the Philippines were directly linked to their opposition to mining, logging, and dam projects.
“President (Rodrigo) Duterte’s years in office have been marked by a dramatic increase in violence against defenders. From his election in 2016 until the end of 2020, 166 land and environment defenders have been killed – a shocking increase for a country which was already a dangerous place to stand up for the environment,” the group said.
The report described as “shocking” the killing of nine members of an indigenous peoples community in Panay in December last year. They said the victims were targeted for opposing the construction of a dam in a nearby river.
“Indigenous peoples were the target of five of the seven mass killings recorded in 2020. In the most shocking of these, nine Tumandok indigenous people were killed and a further 17 arrested in raids by the military and police on the 30th of December on the island of Panay in the Philippines."
"Numerous reports state that these communities were targeted for their opposition to a mega-dam project on the Jalaur river.”
The group also hit Duterte for his attacks on dissent amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“President Duterte used the COVID pandemic to further crackdown on dissent – implementing one of the strictest lockdowns enforced by the police and the military. The government also took advantage of the pandemic to rush through the Anti-Terrorism law, which came into effect in June. Critics argue that this will accelerate ‘red-tagging’– labelling activists and social leaders as communist rebels – and will lead to an increase in violence against environmental and indigenous defenders.”
There is no immediate reaction from Malacanang on Global Witness' report.
Global Witness said 227 lethal attacks against environmental defenders were recorded in 2020, “making it once again the most dangerous year on record for people defending their homes, land and livelihoods, and ecosystems vital for biodiversity and the climate.”
The group said governments can turn the tide on the climate crisis and protect human rights by protecting civil society, and through passing legislation to hold corporations accountable for their actions and profits.
“Lawmakers have relied too much on corporate self-reporting and voluntary corporate mechanisms. As a result, companies continue to cause, contribute to, and benefit from human rights abuses and environmental harms, particularly across borders,” it said.
Global Witness also said states must ensure that national policies protect land and environmental defenders.