Year-end reports show death rate ticking up . . .
A series of recent human rights-related reports has painted a grim picture of the Philippines as the deadliest country for environmental activists, as well as farmers and Indigenous peoples engaged in land disputes, a title it has held for three consecutive years. That is according to regional rights advocacy group PAN Asia Pacific, which documented 50 related killings reported in 2019, up from 33 killings last year. Earlier this week, Filipino NGO Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan) reported 46 deaths of environmental defenders in the Philippines, up from 30 in 2018. Human rights group Global Witness confirmed these numbers.
Government activities tied to deaths, but officials also face violence . . .
These reports underscore just how difficult it has been for land activists and officials to operate amid the deadly violence surrounding land grabbing, mining, and illegal logging. Kalikasan claimed that in 2019, 80 per cent of the cases were perpetrated by state security forces or done in “notorious death squad fashion,” noting that even government officials working to protect the environment are not spared. The vast majority of cases remain officially unsolved despite the patchwork of official investigations. Police resources were also used to raid NGOs in October and November of this year. These raids have had a chilling effect; for example, the Manila-based Center for Environmental Concerns, which is leading opposition to the Kaliwa Dam project, vacated its offices after threats and police raids.
Business interests hamper change . . .
Multiple forces have been blamed for the violence, with Kalikasan saying police raids, arrests, and the purported planting of evidence is similar to tactics used in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. Tackling the violence remains a challenge, especially with major business interests intersecting with land rights. For example, food producers Del Monte Philippines and Dole Philippines have been tied to significant land disputes, while China’s Export-Import Bank backs the aforementioned Kaliwa Dam project. Global Witness also produced an investigation into the deaths of four activists to demonstrate this influence of business on the ensuing violence.
- PAN Asia Pacific: Land & Rights Watch 2019 Year end Report
- Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment: 2019 year-end report on the killings of Filipino environmental defenders
- Global Witness: Defending the Philippines