Photo by: ABS-CBN News

International non-government organization The Global Witness said 48 environmental campaigners were murdered in the Philippines last year — making the country the most dangerous for environmental defenders in Asia.

It’s a 71 percent increase from the 28 killings in the country in 2016.

Based on Global Witness’ 2017 report, 207 land and environmental activists were killed across 22 countries, or about four deaths a week, making last year the worst year on record globally. Brazil recorded the highest with 57, followed by Philippines.

The report said, “There is a huge rise in killings linked to consumer products. Brutal attacks on those defending their land from destructive agriculture – such as land grabs for palm oil, used in household goods like soap and coffee – are on the rise.”

The Global Witness referred to the TAMASCO massacre in Lake Sebu in South Cotabato last December as among the major killings after seven members of the T’boli-Manubu tribe were killed in a New People’s Army encounter.

A fact-finding mission by civil society organizations also revealed that the community was resisting the encroachment of a coffee plantation without the consent of the indigenous peoples.

“Local activists are being murdered as governments and businesses value quick profit over human life. Many of the products emerging from this bloodshed are on the shelves of our supermarkets,” Ben Leather, Global Witness senior campaigner, said.

Some governments and businesses are complicit in the killings, the report also revealed.

“Governments, companies and investors have the duty and the power to support and protect defenders at risk, and to guarantee accountability wherever attacks occur. But more importantly, they can prevent these threats from emerging in the first place, by listening to local communities, respecting their rights and ensuring that business is conducted responsibly,” Leather said.

The killings were also linked with mining, poaching and logging apart from agriculture.

Local NGO Alyansa Tigil Mina pointed out that President Rodrigo Duterte not talking about indigenous people issues will only exacerbate the situation of lumads who are displaced by militarization and increasing investors on plantations, mining, energy and other large-infrastructure projects.

“There are continuing threats posed by mining projects against the Palawan tribe in Brooke’s Point, the Mamanwas in Cantilan and Lake Mainit and the Bla’ans in Tampakan,” ATM national coordinator Jaybee Garganera said.

He added, “IPs of Mangyans in Oriental Mindoro and Tau-buhid Mangyan from Sibuyan Island, Romblon are also threatened by encroachment of agricultural activities because their ancestral domains have been claimed and titled under the government’s agrarian reform program.”

As a result, environmental groups are urging the government to order an investigation on the increasing violation and abuse of human rights of affected communities.

They are also asking to enforce government policies and regulations that promote the rights to a safe and sound environment and protect the rights of marginalized communities, particularly women and IPs.

Moreover, ATM is raising its opposition to the plan of Charter change and transition to a federal form of government as there is not enough time for the affected communities to have a meaningful engagement in the process.

“Hastily embarking on these political changes will bring more challenges and issues that put pressure on our food, land and water resources, as well as the risks of climate change,” Garganera said.

“Cha-cha and federalism, at this point, will expose human rights defenders to more risks and threats, when the decisions on the extraction and utilization of natural resources are given to compromised political leaders,” he added.

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