Second most dangerous
WHO REMEMBERS Dexter Condez, who was described as the most vocal figure among the Ati in their struggle for their ancestral land rights in world-famous Boracay? The spokesperson of the Boracay Ati Tribal Organization was gunned down on Feb. 22, 2013, as he was heading home after a meeting, and three years later the persons responsible have yet to be held to account. His murder is among a long list of murders of environmental activists, indigenous people included, who have spoken out in defense of their rights, their lands, and their natural resources against the inroads of developers, mining and agribusiness firms, logging concessions, etc.
Yet, as cold-blooded as it was, Condez’s killing, because it happened in 2013, is not among those documented to have placed the Philippines in yet another unenviable distinction: as the second deadliest country for environmental activists among 16 countries in the world in 2015. The distinction was made official early this week by Global Witness, a London-based advocacy group that documented 185 such killings all over the planet last year. In its report, Global Witness said the figure (185) is 60 percent more than in 2014 (116) and the highest since it started its documentation in 2002.
In 2015, Brazil was the deadliest country in the world for environmental activists, with 50 killings; the Philippines was second with 33, followed by Colombia with 26. Almost 40 percent of the 185 killed, or 67, were indigenous people, according to Global Witness. Indeed, 22 of the 33 on the Philippines’ scorecard were from indigenous communities fighting to defend their lands from agribusiness and mining interests.
Who remembers Dionel Campos, the leader of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu) in the province of Surigao del Sur, and his relative Datu Bello Sinzo? Who remembers Emerito Samarca, executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev), which served communities seldom reached by government services? Per eyewitness accounts, Campos and
Sinzo were shot dead in the wee hours of Sept. 1, 2015, by uniformed armed men who had rounded up the community on suspicion that its members were supporting the communist New People’s Army. Samarca’s corpse—the throat slit, the hands and feet bound—was later found in the Alcadev compound.
But what were these groups up to? What were their primary concerns? Alcadev, a privately owned secondary school, had lumad children as students. Mapasu, a community organization, campaigns against the exploitation of coal, nickel and gold reserves by foreign and local mining companies.
The year 2015 was “the deadliest year on record for killings of land and environmental defenders, people struggling to protect their land, forests and rivers,” Global Witness said in its report. It said conflicts involving mining, agribusiness, hydroelectric dams and logging were the cause of most of the killings.
Specifically, Global Witness said “one of the root causes of conflict in the highly militarized Mindanao region” was “the encroachment of agribusiness and mining interests in indigenous peoples’ lands without their consent.” It said those who oppose such projects are “finding themselves in the firing line of private security companies, state forces, and a thriving market for contract killers.”
Were the five Manobo leaders reported killed by the military’s Special Forces in Pangantucan, Bukidnon, on Aug. 18, 2015, fighting for their community’s rights and interests? The military said the five men were communist insurgents, but the NPA said they were civilians. Was Condez killed in 2013 because of his spirited defense of the Ati’s right to a 2.1-hectare beach front property in Boracay?
Lamentably, this “second most dangerous for environmental activists” distinction for the Philippines comes after its tag of “second most dangerous country for journalists,” second only to war-wracked Iraq. And it doesn’t seem like this long-running tag would be erased from the records soon, the tone of the incoming administration’s pronouncements on the matter being hardly encouraging.
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