By RAYMUND B. VILLANUEVA
MANILA — An international anti-corruption group has revealed that the Rodrigo Duterte administration’s heavy-handed rule in Mindanao and many other parts of the country has caused the deaths of 52 environmentalists in the hands of the military in the past three years.
In a report entitled “Defending the Philippines,” the group Global Witness said that Duterte’s “martial law has emboldened [the military] to use force to silence environmental and indigenous activism.
In a press conference in Quezon City, September 24, the group said it uncovered “shocking evidence of widespread attacks against land and environmental defenders when they stand up to destructive coal, agribusiness, mining and tourism projects.”
The group also identified major local and international corporations as the beneficiaries of the systematic attacks against Filipino citizens.
The report accused major players Dole Philippines, Del Monte Philippines, San Miguel Corporation, Standard Chartered and the World Bank of “corporate greed” that caused killings and widespread displacement of marginalized communities.
The revelations came after the Philippines was named last July as the world’s deadliest country for land and environment defenders in 2018 back, sparking widespread international coverage of the issue.
In his presentation, Global Witness Senior Campaigner Ben Leather said his group’s report could not be clearer in its finding that the Duterte administration has miserably failed in protecting land and environmental defenders.
“Businesses from coal to agribusiness, from mining to tourism, are allowed to run rampant and irreparably damage the lives of ordinary Filipinos,” Leather said, adding corruption and conflicts of interest within government affecting well-known politicians also remain out of control.
“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. And if companies and investors like Del Monte Philippines, San Miguel and Standard Chartered want their sustainability and human rights pledges to be anything other than poisonous hot air – then they too need to take immediate action to tackle the root causes of these attacks and support defenders,” Leather said.
Impunity against land and defenders
Local environmental Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (PNE), a partner to the investigations, agreed with the Global Witness analysis that “the killings are the sharp end of a broader impunity against land and environmental defenders.”
Leon Dulce,Kalikasan PNE national coordinator, said, “The Global Witness report reveals damning evidence of how Duterte’s military and paramilitary have essentially functioned as mercenaries for large-scale mining and other extractive and destructive business projects. By using brute armed force to guarantee and secure dirty investments, Duterte has indeed failed in his promises to protect the environment and indigenous peoples, and curb corruption.”
“Martial Law is clearly not the so-called tool to save democracy that Malacanang wants to paint it to be. For us Filipino environmental defenders, it has functioned as a tool for repression and to promote the unimpeded plunder of our natural resources by big businesses,” Dulce added.
Kalikasan PNP demanded an independent into the function of military and paramilitary groups as ‘mercenaries of large-scale mines and other extractive and destructive projects across the Philippines.’
‘We also demand for the immediate cessation of the Martial Law declaration over Mindanao and the institutionalization of a national policy that will protect the rights of Filipino environmental defenders and other human rights defenders from the atrocities especially of state security forces,” Dulce said.