“Green activists are being terror-listed, slapped with harassment charges, faced with martial rule, and even murdered as if environmental activism is a crime.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Short of saying that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is sowing an injustice, environmentalists, indigenous peoples and farmers gathered as Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment held a picket at the Justice department on Friday, April 20. They asked the DOJ to stand with the people in defending the environment and its resources, instead of allowing itself to be used as a tool for muzzling environmental defenders.
Specifically, the group asked the DOJ to withdraw the petition it filed, February 21, seeking to proscribe as “terrorist” the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, as well as 657 allegedly ranking members of these organizations. The Kalikasan PNE said that through this proscription, the DOJ is, in fact, targeting activists and citizens, among them 37 environmental defenders, inaccurately branding them as “terrorists,” harassing them and constricting their freedom to protect the environment.
“In the context of the Duterte government’s compromise of our national sovereignty and patrimony to foreign interests, this repression of opposition would further expose our natural resources to the unbridled corporate greed of exploitative and privately-owned corporations,” the petition filed by Kalikasan PNE said.
Fifty-three organizations from 15 countries signed the environmentalists’ petition.
Included in the DOJ terror list are special rapporteur Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, indigenous Cordilleran and Lumad activists, and anti-mining and anti-coal activists in Ilocos, Southern Tagalog, and Negros.
“Green activists are being terror-listed, slapped with harassment charges, faced with martial rule, and even murdered as if environmental activism is a crime,” said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.
The group observed that Duterte’s counterinsurgency and anti-terrorism programs are being trained on the strongest pockets of resistance to big mines, plantations, dams, and other destructive projects. If this is not halted, more cases of rights violations might occur as resistance to the environment-destructive programs are bound to continue, the protesters said.
International environmental groups such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and UN Environment (UNEP) have also objected to the DOJ’s proscription list, the Kalikasan PNE said.
A statement released by civil society organizations of the Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development held in Bangkok last March demanded the Philippine government to “withdraw the justice department’s arbitrary petition, stop the threats, intimidation and harassment of human rights, women, and environmental defenders, adhere to international human rights and international humanitarian laws, and bring justice to victims of rights violations.”
In December last year, 116 environmental groups from 25 countries raised concerns about the plight of Filipino environmental defenders. They urged the government to stop the killings of environmental defenders and bring to justice its perpetrators. The environmental defenders said the government armed forces themselves have been known to be behind the killing of individuals it suspected as rebel sympathizers, and they included environmental defenders.
The international watchdog Global Witness has previously reported that the Philippines remains the second deadliest in the world for land and environmental defenders. In 2017, they collated documented reports on 44 killings.
“Duterte can no longer hide behind their pathetic excuse of ‘asserting national sovereignty’ against foreign intervention on human rights issues. These environment-related rights violations are directly linked to natural resource plunder driven by foreign corporate interests,” said Dulce.
At present, there are a number of projects deemed destructive to the environment that are in various stages of implementation all over the Philippines. In many cases, they are either being stalled or limited by community protests. These projects have also been associated with militarization and human rights violations. Among these are the Chinese-funded Kaliwa-Kanan dam in Rizal province, and along the Chico River in the Cordillera, the Australian takeover of Mt. Diwalwal’s resources in Compostela Valley which is violently elbowing out the local small-scale Filipino miners, and the controversial Tampakan mining project in Cotabato that has recorded a massacre and continuing harassment and killing of local protesters. The proposed mine site covers one of the richest finds in Mindanao, and would include forest denudation and open-pit mining when fully operational. The project is backed by Australian, Canadian, and Swiss capital.