Activist tagged 'rebel' by Philippine gov't wins UN award


Posted at Sep 27 2018 08:28 AM | Updated as of Sep 27 2018 08:49 AM

Joan Carling, a prominent indigenous rights activist from the Kankanaey tribe of the northern Philippines' Cordillera region poses for a photo before an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Reuters

MANILA - The United Nations has given a lifetime achievement award to Joan Carling, an indigenous rights activist whom the Philippine government is seeking to declare as a "terrorist."

The Department of Justice in March asked a Manila Court to brand as terrorists Carling and some 600 alleged communist guerrillas, including a UN special rapporteur, former congressman Satur Ocampo, and 4 former Catholic priests.

Carling, who has been defending the land rights of indigenous people for over 2 decades, won the Champions of the Earth Award for lifetime achievement, the UN said in a statement released Wednesday.

The recognition is UN’s highest environmental honor. It was awarded this year to "6 of the world’s most outstanding environmental change makers," including French President Emmanuel Macron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the UN said.

Carling, in a statement released by the UN, introduced herself as a member of the Kankanaey tribe from the northern region of Cordillera, which sits on a mineral belt rich in gold, copper and manganese.

The resources, she said, belong to the indigenous peoples of the mountain region, but are being threatened by mining companies and other development projects.

Over half of the Cordillera land had pending mining applications as of July 2000, she noted.

"The environment is part of our life. When our lands and our resources are taken away for mining, for dams, for agribusiness, our reaction is, of course, to defend this," she said in a separate UN video.

"We are trying to protect the environment, not just for ourselves. We are protecting it for humanity, for the rest of the world," she added.


Carling said the government's move to brand her as a terrorist is "baseless."

"When we defend, we take legitimate action. Our leaders are getting arrested and some of our leaders are even killed," she added.

The activist said she hasn't been home since the government accused her of having terror links.

"It has uprooted me: I fear for the safety of my family and friends," she said.

Carling, however, said she will not abandon the fight for indigenous peoples' land rights.

"I need to stay more motivated than ever. I cannot give up the fight for my people," she said.

Malacañang has said the government's "terrorist" list is based on intelligence information and not part of a "witch hunt."

Left-leaning members of the House of Representatives in April sought a legislative inquiry into the move.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra was also urged by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate to review the terrorist list, saying this may be used as a "hit list" against those included.

Carling serves as secretary general of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), for which she has worked with tribes across 13 countries in the last 8 years to address environmental issues.

Other recipients of the Champions of the Earth Award this year were food companies Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat for developing plant-based alternative to beef; China’s Zhejiang’s Green Rural Revival Program, which rehabilitated heavily polluted rivers and streams; and the Cochin International Airport for its use of sustainable energy.

Past laureates include Afroz Shah who led the world’s largest beach cleanup, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, former US Vice President Al Gore, Ocean Cleanup CEO Boyan Slat, scientist-explorer Bertrand Piccard, and developer of Google Earth Brian McClendon, said the UN.