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Deadly ground

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The Philippines remains the deadliest country in Asia for individuals defending their land and the environment, for the tenth straight year, ever since watchdog Global Witness started reporting on the killings of land and environmental activists in 2012.

It was no contest last year, with eleven of the 16 lethal attacks in Asia taking place in the country.

Globally, the Philippines is ranked the fifth most dangerous country for environmentalists in 2022.  Colombia topped the Global Witness ranking with 60 killings, followed by Brazil with 34, Mexico – 31, and Honduras -14.

The latest report of the London-based watchdog found that at least 177 defenders lost their lives last year, or an average of one activist murdered every other day.

Indigenous peoples, who rely on their lands and natural resources for a living, accounted for more than a third of lethal attacks with 64 killings last year.

Global Witness warned that the worsening climate crisis and the increasing demand for agricultural commodities, fuel and minerals “will only intensify the pressure on the environment – and those who risk their lives to defend it.”

In the Philippines, around 281 such activists have been killed since 2012. A third of the killings were associated with defenders who opposed mining operations.

Interestingly, revitalizing the mining sector is a priority of the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and as the Philippines is the fifth most mineral-rich country in the world, producing minerals used in clean energy technologies such as copper and nickel. Filipinos can only hope that the government’s priorities include the protection of those who oppose the ramp up of mining activities, allowing them to voice dissent safely and without having to fear for their lives in a country that has apparently become notorious for solving such conflicts with lethal force.

Furthermore, people and communities who protect the environment and resist destructive projects have been conveniently Red-tagged, making them easy targets for harassment, abduction, or killing in an environment where people tagged as such are not provided protection by the government and the justice system, but end up hunted down instead by either state or non-state forces.

A country that remains the deadliest in Asia for environmental defenders for 10 straight years certainly needs its government to seriously review the way its security forces conducts business and sets priorities. Given the current leadership’s interest in revitalizing the mining sector, government has to make sure that any effort at development is also peaceful and benefits everyone, not just those with vested interests and connections to the powerful.*

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