The Philippines has once again topped Asian countries and is third worldwide when it comes to the most number of land rights and environmental activists killed, this time for the year 2020.
The report of environment and human rights watchdog Global Witness said 29 such advocates were slain in the country last year, trailing Colombia and Mexico, whose 60 and 30 deaths respectively put them at first and second place.
In Asia, the Philippines’ 29 deaths dominate the landscape as it is followed by India with four deaths and Indonesia’s three deaths last year.
The massacre that got the Philippines to the top of the think tank’s list would be the death of nine Tumandok indigenous people who had been resisting a mega-dam project on the Jalaur River in Panay during a joint police and military operation.
“President Duterte’s years in office have been marked by a dramatic increase in violence against defenders. From his election in 2016 until the end of 2020, 166 land and environment defenders have been killed – a shocking increase for a country which was already a dangerous place to stand up for the environment,” Global Witness said in its report.
“In the Philippines, opposition to damaging industries is often met with violent crackdowns from the police and military. In our data, over half of the lethal attacks were directly linked to defenders’ opposition to mining, logging and dam projects,” it added.
The group likewise took Duterte to task for using the COVID-19 pandemic to further crackdown on dissent. “The government also took advantage of the pandemic to rush through the Anti-Terrorism Law, which came into effect in June. Critics argue that this will accelerate ‘red-tagging’ – labelling activists and social leaders as communist rebels – and will lead to an increase in violence against environmental and indigenous defenders,” Global Witness said.
Worldwide, the report said 2020 is “the most dangerous year on record for people defending their homes, land and livelihoods, and ecosystems vital for biodiversity and the climate.”
In a country where human lives have lost value and almost anyone can be killed by state forces, vigilante groups, and private armies after being arbitrarily labeled as involved in the drug trade or as a communist rebel; it comes as no surprise that the Philippines is the once again the most dangerous country in Asia for land rights and environmental activists whose dissent and resistance can make life difficult for certain entities.
We would normally call on state security forces to do a better job of protecting our people but when the most heinous of the killings for 2020 involve them, who can the Filipino people who are simply fighting for their land and environment turn to when they fear for their lives?*