116 groups from 25 countries demand end to attacks on environmental defenders in ‘Asia’s deadliest country’

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Motor protest caravan for the preservation of the environment brings the message to several towns in the Caraga Region. ( Erwin Mascarinas, News5-InterAksyon)

MANILA, Philippines — Environmental and other nongovernmental organizations from 25 countries are demanding the Duterte government act immediately to stop killings and other abuses of environmental defenders in the country.

“It is not a crime to defend the environment,” declared the statement, signed by 116 organizations, released Thursday, December 7.

The statement pointed out that “in just more than a year under the current administration of President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, at least 42 environmental defenders have been killed, 240 have been slapped with harassment lawsuits, and at least 18,263 have been forcibly displaced because of their resistance to destructive projects.”

The groups noted that this record bolstered the 2017 Global Witness Report on Killings of Environmental and Land Defenders’ ranking the Philippines Asia’s deadliest and third deadliest in the world for environmental defenders.

The statement’s release followed the alleged massacre by government troops of eight lumad in Lake Sebu in South Cotabato on December 3.

The human rights group Karapatan named the fatalities as Datu Victor Danyan, his sons Victor Jr. and Artemio, Pato Celardo, Samuel Angkoy, To Diamante, Bobot Lagase, and Mateng Bantal. Two others — Luben and Teteng Laod — were wounded.

The military claims the fatalities were killed fighting with the New People’s Army in a clash that also left two soldiers dead.

However, environmentalists who knew the slain datu said he was not a rebel but led his tribe campaign against a commercial coffee plantation and plans to mine for coal within their ancestral land.

Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, one of the statement’s initiators, said: “President Duterte is by far the worst human rights violator to Filipino environmental defenders. Duterte is well on his way to making the Philippines the most dangerous country for environmental defenders by 2018.”

The statement also cited the November 26 evacuation of 1,688 lumad from the hinterland of Lianga, Surigao del Sur who are now the target of a food blockade allegedly imposed by government troops and “various other incidents of extrajudicial killings, illegal arrests, enforced disappearances, and forced evacuations … just over the past week in the provinces of Mindoro Oriental, Batangas, Agusan del Sur, Compostela Valley, and Surigao del Sur,” all in communities affected by mining and huge plantations.

It also noted “the recent systematic efforts of justifying killings and militarization by accusing environmental defenders as armed communist rebels or sympathizers.”

The statement said many of the atrocities stemmed from opposition to mining — 55 percent of killings and 100 percent of “harassment lawsuits.”

It said there are 225 “trumped up” charges against environmental defenders, with 16 “illegally detained.”

READ THE STATEMENT: